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973*92 R8?am 
Rove re , Richar*. \ I * l v ? 
The America o ^r\ <b1 
and other rrpoK^ *v 
a i id spe cula 't i o V i * " 
Brace & [1962] 


The American Establishment and Other Reports, 
Opinions, and Speculations 

Other Books by Richard BL Rovere 


(with Arthur M. Schfatfnger, /r) 



The American Establishment 
and Other Reports, Opinions, and 

I Hareourt, Brace & World, Inc. 


COPVWC.HT 1946, 1948, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955. 1950, 1957, 1958, 1961, 


All rights rfitcrvnd* A/o part of this booh may be reproduced 

in any form or by any mechanical mtans, including mimeograph 

mid tap* rccorder f without permission in writing /ram l/w? 

First edition 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63*9438 


For Mark 


THE FIRST SECTION of this book exhausts its author's knowledge of the 

subject treated therein. Those who wish to know more about the Estab 
lishment are advised to buy the New York Times and read between the 
lines. They may also consult their friendly local F.B.I, agent and the 

House Committee on Un-American Activities. 

Peter J. McGuinncss, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, died in 1948. He was 
a peerless leader, and Brooklyn's Assistant Commissioner of Borough 

Works, to the end. 

The pieces on Truman and Dewey in 1948, Newbold Morris in 1953, 
the "kept witnesses'* in 1955, and Eaxa Pound in 1957 appear exactly as 
they were when first published. They are unchanged because they 
seemed to me to have some documentary Interest that would be lessened 
by revision. 

As for the rest of the book; in general, I have regarded republication 
as a second knock by opportunity. I have cut, I have amplified, 1 have 
rewritten* 1 have even fused articles done at different times for different 
publications. In such cases, the date used is that of the later, or latest* 

The appreciation of George Orwell is taken from The Orwell 
Reader, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in 1956. "The Kept 
Witnesses" was originally prepared as a report for the? Fund far the 
Republic. All tine rest were commissioned by magazines, My thanks for 
permission to use them here go to the proprietors of The. American 
Scholar, Confluence, Esquire,, Harpers, The New Republic, The New 
Yorker, The Progressive, The Reporter, and the Spectator of London. 
Approximately half were written in the first instance for The Mm 
Yorker, whose editor. William Shawn* has counseled me wisely and with 
unfailing kindness lot eighteen years, 


Preface viii 

Technical and literary consultants on this project were F. W. Du- 
pee, Margaret Marshall, Frederick Q. Shafer, and Gore Vidal. Assistant 
production managers were Ann Rovere and Julianna Ruhland. Special 
effects by Eleanor Rovere and Elizabeth Rovere. 

New York 
February 1962 

>|c Contents 


1 The American Establishment 


2 Matters Mainly of Fact 





3 A Few Enthusiasms and Hostilities 









4 Judgments Reserved 











The American Establishment* 

To understand the United States today, it is 
necessary to know something about the Establish 

Most citizens don't realize it exists. Yet the 
Establishment makes its influence felt from the 
President's Cabinet to the professional life of a 
young college teacher who wants a foundation 
grant. It affects the nation's policies in almost 
every area. The News 6* Courier, CHARLESTON, s. c. 
October 18, 1961 

IT is NOW, of course, conceded by most fair-minded and objective 
authorities that there is an Establishment in America a more or 
less closed and self-sustaining institution that holds a preponder 
ance of power in our more or less open society. Naturally, Estab 
lishment leaders pooh-pooh the whole idea; they deny the Exist 
ence of the Establishment, disclaim any connection of their own 
with it, and insist that they are merely citizens exercising citizens* 
rights and responsibilities. They often maintain that the real 
power is held by some other real or imagined force the voters, 
the Congress, Madison Avenue, Comsymps, the rich, the poor, and 
so forth. This is an ancient strategy; men of power have always 
known how to use it. "Wouldst thou enjoy first rank?" St. John 

* Some of this material originally appeared in The American Scholar 
("Notes on the Establishment in America," Vol. 30, No. 4, Autumn 1961, 
pp. 489-495). Many readers professed to be puzzled by my approach. Some 
even asked if I intended my work to be taken seriously. I found their 
questions disheartening and, I might as well add, more than a bit offensive. 
They cast doubt not only on my own integrity but on that of the dis 
tinguished journal which had the courage to publish my findings The 
American Scholar is, after all, an official publication of the United Chapters 
of Phi Beta Kappa. Its editors, of whom I am one, would certainly not be 
parties to a hoax. 



Chrysostom- wrote. "Then cede it to another."* The News 6- 
Courier is absolutely right. 

Conceptions of the Establishment, to be sure, differ widely, 
just as do conceptions of the Church, the State, and other im 
portant institutions. Hilary Masters, a leading member of the 
Dutchess County school of sociologists, defined it in a recent 
lecturef as "the legitimate Mafia.";}; To William F. Buckley, Jr., 

* Homilies, c. 388. 

j- Before the Edgewater Institute, Barrytown, N.Y., July 4, 1961. Vide 
Proceedings, 1961, pp. 37-51. Also see Masters' first-rate monograph Estab 
lishment Watering Places, Shekomeko Press, 1957. 

J It was the figure of speech, not the actual analogy, that seemed so striking 
and appropriate. Actually, the analogy was not actual and doubtless was 
not intended to be regarded as such. The Establishment exists; the Mafia 
does not exist. Modern scholarship has pretty well destroyed the myth of the 
Mafia. Vide "The Myth of the Mafia," in The End of Ideology, by Daniel Bell, 
The Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois, 1960. Bell cites a report by Serrell Hillman, 
a highly reputable journalist who went all over the country to find out if 
there really was a Mafia at work. He checked in at the Federal Bureau of 
Investigation and asked the top men there if they believed in the Mafia. 
They said they did not. Chicago Crime Commission same story. Hillman 
could not check with the Central Intelligence Agency because it is forbidden 
by statute to intervene in domestic affairs. But he did talk with innumerable 
police officials, criminal lawyers, criminals, private detectives, and the like 
none of whom could put him on the trail of the Mafia. He was eventually 
forced to the conclusion that the only people who believed in it were (i) 
Senator Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee; (2) Hearst crime reporters; and (3) the 
Treasury Department's Bureau of Narcotics. Senator Kefauver once described 
the Mafia in concrete terms. "The Mafia," he said, "is the cement that helps 
to bind the Costello-Adonis-Lansky syndicate of New York and the Ac- 
cardo-Guzik-Fischetti syndicate of Chicago." This sounds good but isn't. Note 
that tricky word "helps." Besides, it is unproved that there is any cement. 
If I may interject a purely personal note here, I may say that I have done a 
bit of work on my own. One day in the summer of 1960, I was on an air 
plane (United Airlines, Flight 420) and learned that the Hon. Frank S. 
Hogan, District Attorney of New York County, was a fellow passenger. The 
air was turbulent, and seat belts had to be fastened, so I could not approach 
the famous prosecutor mysell I asked a stewardess if she would deliver a 
note to Mr. Hogan, She said she would be delighted. My note read: "Dear 
Mr. District Attorney: Is there a Mafia?" His reply was prompt and categori 
cal. "No, Virginia, there is not/' he wrote. Still and all, I think that Masters' 
phrase caught the spirit of the thing admirably. Dante's Inferno was a 
product of the imagination, but it has helped many men to approach the 
reality of beauty and even the beauty of reality. The Establishment really 
is the cement that binds the Rockefeller-Gill-Sulzberger syndicate in New 
York to the Stevenson-Field-Sandburg syndicate in Chicago. In the interests 
of precision, Masters might have made a slight qualification of the adjective 
"legitimate." There are a few places where the Establishment cannot func 
tion legally. But of that, more later. 

5 The American Establishment 

and his collaborators on the National Review, it is almost inter 
changeable with the "Liberal Machine," which turns out the 
"Liberal Line." Their Establishment includes just about everyone 
in the country except themselves* and the great hidden, enlight 
ened majority of voters who would, if only they were given the 
chance, put a non-Establishment man in the White House and 
have John Kenneth Galbraith recalled from India or left there 
and relieved of his passport. Galbraith, himself a pioneer in the 
field of Establishment studies, sees the Establishment as a rather 
small group of highly placed and influential men who embody the 
best of the Conventional Wisdom and can be trusted with sub 
stantial grants of power by any responsible group in the coun 
try. The perfect Establishment type, in his view, would be the 
Republican called to service in a Democratic administration 
(e.g., the present Secretary of the Treasury, Douglas Dillon) or 
the vice versa. "They are the pivotal people/' he observed in one 
of his earlier studies. (Italics his.) That was before his appoint 
ment as the Establishment's man in New Delhi. (He is not a 
member of his own Establishment, however, for he could not 
hope to be held over in a Republican administration.) 

The fact that experts disagree on exactly what the Establish 
ment is and how it works does not mean that they are talking 
about different things or about something that does not exist. 
Experts disagree about the Kingdom of God. This is not an 
argument against its existence; plainly the Kingdom of God is 
many things. Differences of opinion over the meaning of "justice" 
have given rise to one of the most honored professions in the 
world. One dogmatic Marxist may quarrel with another over 
the proper "role of the proletariat" and even about who should 
and who should not be counted as belonging to the "bourgeoisie." 
This does not make a fiction or a meaningless abstraction of 

* It is characteristic of most thinkers and writers on the subject to define 
the Establishment in such a way as to keep themselves outside it and even 
victimized by it. Werner von Fromm has suggested that they all tend toward 
a mild paranoia, and what little clinical evidence there is tends to support 
him. The one exception known to me is Francois Grund, a French economist 
of conservative leanings, who has applied to the Establishment Burke's 
phrases for the nobility "an ornament of the civil order . . . the Corinthian 
capital of ... society." Both Von Fromm's and Grund's observations are to 
be found in the 1961 Edgewater Proceedings. 


either the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. The Establishment can 
be thought of in many different ways, all of them empirically 
valid in one or another frame of reference. Masters, Buckley, 
Galbraith, and Corradini* look upon the Establishment from 
quite different points of view which grow in the main out of 
their differing disciplines but they would have no difficulty in 
agreeing that Douglas Dillon is true blue or that, say, Senator 
Thomas J. Dodd, of Connecticut, is on the outside looking in 
disapprovingly, in his case. Despite their differences of empha 
sis and approach, none of them would have many reservations 
about the News & Courier's definition: 

The Establishment is a general term for those people in finance, busi 
ness, and the professions, largely from the Northeast, who hold the 
principal measure of power and influence in this country irrespective 
of what administration occupies the White House. ... [It is] a working 
alliance of the near-socialist professor and the internationalist Eastern 
banker calling for a bland bi-partisan approach to national politics.'!" 

For my own part, I think the definition is a pretty good one. 
I would cavil a bit at the notion that "the Establishment is a 
general term" etc. It is a good deal more than a collective noun, 
as I shall make clear. Moreover, there is a slight ambiguity in 
the phrase "principal measure of power." Too many journalists, 
awed by their observations of the Establishment at work, leap to 
the conclusion that its power is not only great but invariably 
decisive. This is by no means the case. There are powerful anti- 
Establishment forces at work, and frequently they prevail. It 
seems to me perfectly clear, for example, that the Establishment 
has never found a way of controlling Congress.^ Indeed, there 

* H. E. Corradini, author of Patterns of Authority in American Society 
(Gainesville Press, 1958). Corradini, an anthropologist, draws a striking 
parallel between the American Establishment and the Ydenneks, an inter 
tribal council that still functions in Canada. 

fThe newspaper's anti-Establishment bias is plain enough, as is the edi 
torialist's sense of exclusion. "Southerners have no place in the Establish 
ment," he writes, "except for a domesticated handful who have turned their 
backs on regional beliefs." For "regional beliefs" read Senator J. Strom 
Thurmond and Governor Orval Faubus. 

JFrom time to time, it has managed to hold a balance of power in the 
Senate, but it has never done even this much in the House. The Congressional 
Monthly for January 1962, surveying the entire performance of the first 

7 The American Establishment 

are times when Congress appears to be nothing more or less than 
a conspiracy to louse up the plans of the Establishment. Whatever 
the Establishment wants, it often seems, Congress mulishly op 

Nor has the Establishment ever made much headway in such 
fields as advertising, television, or motion pictures. The basic 
orientation o the leaders in all these fields is anti-Establishment, 
and what Establishment strength exists is concentrated mainly 
on the lower levels in advertising, the copy writers; in television, 
certain of the news departments (most notably at Columbia 
Broadcasting); and in the motion pictures, a few writers and ac 
tors. Still, Establishment strength in these areas is generally unim 
pressive. In Hollywood, to take a simple example, ICMPAFPWJ, 
the Independent Committee of the Motion Picture Arts for 
Freedom and Peace With Justice, an Establishment front, held a 
fund-raising meeting in the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel on Novem 
ber 20, 1961. Only twenty-eight persons attended, and the take 
for the evening, after eloquent pleas for support from Paul 
Newman and Joanne Woodward, was $3,067.50. (Of this amount, 
$2,900 was in the form of pledges, only about fifteen per cent of 
which, in all likelihood, were actually redeemable. On the very 
same evening, at the Beverly Hilton, the National Foundation 
for Amoebic Dysentery raised more than five times as much, all 
in cash or checks of that date, from three times as many people.) 

The Establishment does not control everything, but its influ 
ence is pervasive, and it succeeds far more often than its antag 
onists in fixing the major goals of American society. Though it 
does not, as I have noted, come anywhere close to controlling 
Congress, Congress is everlastingly reacting to it. Within the 
next couple of years, for example, Congress will spend a good 
part of its time fighting the Establishment program for a great 
revision of American trade practices and for eventual American 
association with the European Common Market. This whole 

session of the Eighty-seventh Congress, found that only nineteen members 
of the House had Establishment voting records of better than eighty per 
cent. Of the nineteen, who accounted for less than five per cent of the total 
membership, twelve were Democrats, seven were Republicans. Fourteen were 
from the Eastern seaboard, two from California, and one each from Oregon, 
Louisiana, and Minnesota. 


scheme was cooked up at a three-day meeting of the Executive 
Committee at the Sheraton-Park in Washington immediately 
after President Kennedy's inauguration on January 20, 1961.* 
The odds are heavily against the Establishment winning this 
battle in 1962 or even in 1963. The important thing, though, is 
that the Establishment has taken the initiative and put its 
great antagonist on the defensive. Practically everyone is agreed 
that in time the victory, even in this difficult matter, will go to 
the Establishment. 

The Establishment is not, of course, at any level a membership 
organization in the sense that it collects dues, issues cards, or holds 
meetings openly under its own auspices. It is a coalition of forces, 
the leaders of which form the top directorate, or Executive Com 
mittee referred to sometimes as "Central." At the lower levels, 
organization is quite loose, almost primitive in some cases, and 
this is one of the facts that explains the differences in definition 
among ex{feft$. In the upper reaches, though, certain divisions 
have achieved a Irigji degree of organization. For instance, the 
directors of the Council on Foreign Relations make up a sort of 
Presidium for that part of the Establishment that guides our 
destiny as a nation.f (The unimpeachable source, a dissident 
Executive Committee member who leaked the story about the 
Common Market decision, said that the Gist Subcommittee ap 
pointed to work on the Common Market matter had only two 
members not drawn from the Council.) The presidents and 

* The meeting had been called not for this purpose alone, but to review 
the state of the world generally at the start of the new President's term. 
The question of American intervention in Cuba, for example, was discussed 
at length and, eventually, tabled because the Committee members were so 
divided among themselves. A resolution was passed urging President Kennedy 
to meet with Nikita Khrushchev "at an early date with a view to determining 
whether any basis for negotiations to reduce tensions presently exists." The 
Common Market matter came up when Roscoe Gist reported that George 
Ball, Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and himself a Committee 
member, wished to pressure the United Kingdom into joining the Common 
Market and looked to a day when we, too, might belong. By a vote of 23-5, 
with two abstentions, he was authorized to go ahead. 

fThe President, of course, has Constitutional responsibility for foreign 
affairs, and I am not suggesting that any recent President has abdicated to 
the CFR. But policy and strategy are worked out in the Council and reach 
the President by way of the State Department, which, of course, is largely 
staffed and always directed by Council members. 

p The American Establishment 

senior professors of the great Eastern universities frequently 
constitute themselves as ad hoc Establishment committees. Now 
and then, the Executive Committee regroups as an Establish 
ment front for some particular end. In the summer of 1961, as a 
case in point, when anti-Establishment forces in Congress and 
elsewhere threatened the President's foreign-aid program, the 
Establishment, at the request of the White House, hastily formed 
fhe Citizens' Committee for International Development and 
managed to bull through a good deal of what the President 
wanted. The Establishment has always favored foreign aid. It 
is, in fact, a matter on which Establishment discipline may be 

Summing up the situation at the present moment, it can, I 
think, be said that the Establishment maintains effective control 
over the Executive and Judicial branches of government; that it 
dominates most of American education and intellectual life; that 
it has very nearly unchallenged power in deciding what is and 
what is not respectable opinion in this country. Its authority is 
enormous in organized religion (Roman Catholics* and funda 
mentalist Protestants to one side), in science, and, indeed, in all 
the learned professions except medicine. It is absolutely unrivaled 
in the great new world created by the philanthropic foundations 
a fact which goes most of the way toward explaining why so 
little is known about the Establishment and its workings. Not 
one thin dime of Rockefeller, Carnegie, or Ford money has been 
spent to further Establishment studies.f 

* It should be noted, though, that it is becoming influential in Catholic 
journalism. A content survey of twelve leading Catholic periodicals showed 
thirty-eight per cent of the text to be Establishment-inspired. 

f The situation approaches scandal at times. The foundations and universi 
ties have subsidized a number of first-rate Establishment scholars. Daniel Bell, 
H. E. Corradini, Alfred Kazin, and Mary McCarthy have received Guggenheim 
Fellowships and other such benefactions, but always for something other 
than Establishment studies. A few universities Florida, Southern Methodist, 
Rampna, Virginia Military Institute, and Michigan State have done what 
little they could to help out, and so have a few of the less well-heeled 
foundations. But there is a general lockout in the richer and better-known 
institutions. Some have even gone so far as to encourage what might be 
called "red-herring scholarship" efforts to prove that something other than 
the Establishment dominates the country. A notorious example is C. Wright 
Mills' The Power Elite (Oxford University Press, 1956). It was subsidized by 
the Huntington Hartford Foundation, Columbia University's Social Science 


If it were not for the occasional formation of public committees 
such as the Citizens' Committee for International Development, 
Establishment scholars would have a difficult time learning who 
the key figures are. Committee rosters serve Establishmentologists 
in the same way that May Day photographs of the reviewing 
stand above Lenin's tomb serve the Kremlinologists. By close 
analysis of them, by checking one list of names against another, 
it is possible to keep tabs quite accurately on the Executive 
Committee. A working principle agreed upon by Establishment 
scholars is this: If in the course of a year a man's name turns up 
fourteen times in paid advertisements in, or collective letters to, 
the New York Times, the official Establishment daily, it is about 
fourteen to one that he is a member of the Executive Committee. 
(I refer, naturally, to advertisements and letters pleading Estab 
lishment causes.) There are, to be sure, exceptions. Sometimes a 
popular athlete or movie actor will, innocently or otherwise, 
allow himself and his name to be exploited by the Establishment. 
He might turn up twenty times a year and still have no real 
status in the institution. But that is an exception. The rule is as 
stated above. 

One important difference between the American Establishment 
and the party hierarchy in Russia is that the Establishment chair 
man is definitely not the man in the center of the picture or the 
one whose name is out of alphabetical order in the listings. The 
secret is astonishingly well kept. Some people, to be sure, have 
argued that when, as happens most of the time, the Establish 
ment has a man of its own in the White House, he automatically 
becomes chairman just as he automatically becomes commander 
in chief of the armed forces. I am quite certain that this is not 
the case. For one thing, the Establishment rarely puts one of its 
tried and trusted leaders in the White House. Dwight Eisenhower 
and John F. Kennedy have both served the Establishment and 
been served by it, but neither is or ever was a member of the 
innermost circle. Both, indeed, were admitted with some reluc- 

Research Council, and Brandeis University. Even the parent body, the 
British Establishment, got into the act through the Oxford University Press, 
which, Mills admits, went "far beyond the office of publisher in helping me 
get on with this/' 

ii The American Establishment 

tance on the part of senior members, and Eisenhower's standing 
has at times been most insecure. 

I am not sure who the chairman of the Establishment is today, 
although I would not be altogether surprised to learn that he is 
Dean Rusk. By a thrust of sheer intuition, though, I did get the 
name of the 1958 chairman and was rather proud of myself for 
doing so. In that year, I discovered that J. K. Galbraith had for 
some time been surreptitiously at work in Establishment studies, 
and he told me that he had found out who was running the 
thing. He tested me by challenging me to guess the man's name. 
I thought hard for a while and was on the point of naming 
Arthur Hays Sulzberger, of the New York Times, when suddenly 
the right name sprang to my lips. "John J. McCloy," I ex 
claimed. "Chairman of the Board of the Chase Manhattan Bank; 
once a partner in Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, and also in 
Cravath, de Gersdorff, Swaine 8c Wood, as well as, of course, 
Milbank, Tweed, Hope, Hadley fc McCloy; former United 
States High Commissioner in Germany; former President of the 
World Bank; liberal Republican; chairman of the Ford Founda 
tion and chairman my God, how could I have hesitated of the 
Council on Foreign Relations; Episcopalian." "That's the one," 
Galbraith said. He congratulated me for having guessed what it 
had taken him so much patient research to discover. 

The Establishment is not monolithic in structure or inflexible 
in doctrine. There is an Establishment "line," but adherence is 
compulsory only on certain central issues, such as foreign aid. On 
economic affairs, for example, several views are tolerated. The 
accepted range is from about as far left as, say, Walter Reuther 
to about as far right as^ say, Dwight Eisenhower. A man cannot be 
for less welfarism than Eisenhower, and to be farther left than 
Reuther is considered bad taste.* Racial equality is another 

* Setting the limitations on the left is not much of a problem nowadays, 
for the left has been inching toward the center at the rate of about seven 
inches per year; the only extreme positions in this epoch are on the right, 
and these are inadmissible. It is interesting to consider the change that 
has come over the Establishment in the last twenty years. In their views on 
government intervention and related questions, Wendell Willkie in the 
early forties and Dwight Eisenhower in the early sixties seemed peas from 


matter on which the Establishment forbids dissent. Opposition 
to integration is a cause for expulsion, or at least suspension for 
not less than a year, unless it is mere "token" opposition. The 
only white Southern members of the Establishment in anything 
like good standing are reconstructed Southerners or Southerners 
the Establishment has reason to believe would be reconstructed 
if political circumstances would allow it. Take Senator J. William 
Fulbright, of Arkansas. He is a pillar of the Establishment even 
though he votes with the unenlightened on racial matters. The 
Council on Foreign Relations gave him an "A-i" rating when he 
was up for chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.* 
The Executive Committee accepts him because it assumes his 
heart is in the right place. He is, after all, a former Rhodes 
scholar and a university president. Moreover, the Fulbright 
scholarships have provided an enormous subsidy for Establish 
ment intellectuals. 

The Establishment has lately been having a most difficult time 
with those of its members clergy, scientists, and academicians, 
in the main who have joined the Committee for a Sane 
Nuclear Policy. The Executive Committee in particular that 
powerful "hard-line" faction led by Dean Acheson and Roscoe 
Gist has no use at all for this organization and would deal 
very sharply with its supporters if they did not include so many 
people who incorporate most of the Establishment virtues. 
Exactly what stand it will take remains to be seen. 

In nonpolitical affairs, great doctrinal latitude is not only 
tolerated but encouraged. In religion, the Establishment is 
rigorously disestablishmentarian. Separatism is another matter 
on which discipline may be invoked.f Like a city-wide ticket, in 

the same pod. But Willkie in his time was regarded as an economic liberal, 
whereas Eisenhower in ours is clearly a conservative. It has been estimated 
that by 1968, views such as Eisenhower's will be considered excessively 
rightist as Barry Goldwater's are today and will not be tolerated. 

* It exercised the veto power, though, when he was proposed as Secretary 
of State. It wanted Dean Rusk to get the job, and used Fulbright's record 
on racial questions as an argument against Fulbright's candidacy. 

f"The Establishment," the Reverend F. Q. Shafer said, in the first of his 
1961 Geist Lectures at Brownlee Seminary, *' takes the view that religion is a 
matter of conscience and has no place in politics or in education. It evidently 
sees no contradiction between this and its endlessly repeated dictum that 
politics and education must always be informed by conscience." 

i 3 The American Establishment 

New York, the Executive Committee is carefully balanced 
religiously as well as racially. (The only important difference is 
that several places are kept for nonbelievers.) The only pro 
scribed views are the noisier ones. Though he now and then gets 
an audience in the White House, Billy Graham is persona non 
grata in Establishment circles. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen is 
regarded as a Catholic Billy Graham and is similarly a pariah. 
Reinhold Niebuhr is the official Establishment theologian, and 
Bishop Angus Dun is the chaplain. 

In matters of public policy, it may be said that those principles 
and policies that have the editorial support of the New York 
Times are at the core of Establishment doctrine. And those ir 
regularities and eccentricities that receive sympathetic consider 
ation in the Times (not only on the editorial page but in the 
Sunday Magazine and the Book Review) are within the range of 
Establishment doctrinal tolerance. 

It is essential to an understanding of the Establishment to 
recognize its essentially national characteristics. The whole of 
its power is greater than the sum of its parts. Its leading figures 
have national and international reputations but very often are 
persons of only slight influence or standing in the cities and 
states from which they come. Former Chairman McCloy, for 
example, cuts a lot of ice in Washington, Geneva, Paris, London, 
Rio de Janeiro, Bonn, Moscow, and Tokyo, but practically none 
in Manhattan. In Albany, he is almost unknown. The relative 
weakness of the Establishment in the states undoubtedly helps 
to explain the shellackings it repeatedly gets in Congress. State 
wide or one might say, statewise it is often torn by a kind of 
factionalism that seldom afflicts its national and international 
operations. In New York, for example, Averell Harriman and 
Nelson Rockefeller have often found themselves locked in 
combat like Grant and Lee; in Washington, they are Alphonse 
and Gaston. And so it goes. 

A state-by-state canvass of Establishment strengths and weak 
nesses was conducted by Perry Associates, a St. Louis firm, in 
1959. Some of the highlights follow: 


In three states Texas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota the 
Establishment is virtually outlawed. There are no restrictive or 
repressive measures on the statute books, but there is persistent 
harassment by police and other officials. The American Civil 
Liberties Union had expressed some interest in arranging a test 
case, but no suitable one was found. Despite constant police 
surveillance, there is considerable underground Establishment 
activity in the Dallas area and in San Antonio. 

The Indiana authorities are openly hostile to the Establish 
ment, and there has been continuing agitation for a law 
requiring Establishment agents to register with the Attorney 
General and be fingerprinted. It is hard to see what would be 
accomplished by this, for the Perry people could find no trace 
of Establishment activity anywhere in Indiana, except at Indiana 
University, in Bloomington. The faculty people there are state 
employees anyway and can quite easily be dealt with. In neither 
Nebraska nor Idaho could any Establishment influence be 
found. There were only the faintest traces in Wyoming, New 
Hampshire, Utah, and Florida. 

Florida was the one Southern state in which Establishment 
forces seemed exceedingly weak. Elsewhere, it was learned, 
nearly all those who described themselves as "moderates" were 
actually connected with the Establishment. 

The big centers are, as one might expect, the states with large 
cities and large electoral votes: New York, California, Illinois, 
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Massachusetts. A rather surprising 
case, though, was Kansas, which ranked ahead of New Jersey and 

For some reason, Establishment studies have attracted few 
historians. Most of the work thus far has been undertaken by 
journalists, economists, sociologists, and psychologists. In con 
sequence, very little has been done to uncover the origins of the 
Establishment. One British historian, Keith E. D. Smith-Kyle, 
maintains, in America in the Round (Polter & Polter, Ltd., 
London, 1956), that "the American pretense to equality was, to 
speak bluntly, given the lie by the formation in the early days 
of the Republic of the sort of 'command* group similar in most 

15 The American Establishment 

respects to what Britons nowadays speak of as 'the Establish 
ment/ By 1847, when the Century Association was founded in 
New York, power had been consolidated in a handful of hands. 
From then on, whenever there was a laying on of hands/ the 
blood in those extremities was the very blood that had coursed 
through those that had molded the clay of life in the so-called 
Federal period." 

It is plain that Smith-Kyle is trying to say, in a roundabout 
British way, that a hereditary aristocracy runs the show here. He 
is as wrongheaded in this matter as he is in most others. 5 * Ameri 
can students, though they number few trained historiansf among 
them and none of a celebrity that compares with Smith-Kyle's, 
subscribe almost unanimously to the proposition that the Estab 
lishment came into being at a far later date to be exact, as well 
as neat, at the turn of the century. They see the institution form 
ing during the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, who by 
common consent was the first Establishment President and in a 
way the last.J The Founding Fathers of today's group zeroed 
in on T. R. as if they had caught him in a perfect bombsight. 
Consider them all, a few of them still alive, all of them within 
living memory: Henry L. Stimson, William Allen White, 
Nicholas Murray Butler, Robert Frost, Albert Beveridge, Abra 
ham Hummel, Joseph Choate, William Travers Jerome, Jacob 
Riis, Charles Evans Hughes, Felix Frankfurter, Ida M. Tarbell, 
Joseph Pulitzer, Martin Provensen, Lincoln Steffens, Benson 
Frost, Learned Hand, W. Adolphe Roberts, Jane Addams, 
Nelson W. Aldrich, Eleanor Alice Burgess, John Hay, John Ray, 

* Vide his revolting apology for Munich, The Noble Experiment (Heineken, 
London, 1939), and his blatantly Stalinist The Bear and the Jug (Bafer & 
Bafer, 1949). 

f Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has done fairly decent work in the past (vide 
The General and the President, with Richard H. Rovere) but his judgments 
are suspect because of his own connections with the Establishment. 

J This is a rather fine point. Since Roosevelt's time, every President ex 
cept Harding and Truman has taken office with full Establishment approval. 
So far as can be determined, though, no one has ever gone directly from the 
Executive Committee to the office of Chief Executive. Woodrow Wilson is 
sometimes cited as an exception, but it is dubious in the extreme that he 
was one. Charles Evans Hughes, his 1916 opponent, was an Executive Com 
mittee man. 


John Jay Chapman, Van Wyck Brooks, Carl Schurz, Hamlin 
Garland, Oscar Straus, Winthrop Chanler, James R. Bourne, 
Whitelaw Reid, and Gifford Pinchot.* 

There, plainly, was the first Executive Committee! 

Some uninformed publicists confuse the Establishment with 
the Organization. The two could not be more different. The 
Establishment Man and the Organization Man could not be 
more different, or more at odds. The Establishment uses the 
Organization from time to time, as a ruling group must in an 
industrial and commercial society. But it devoutly hopes that in 
time the Organization will wither away. The Organization 
would like to overthrow the Establishment. It had a near 
success when it ran its 1960 chairman, Richard M. Nixon, for 
President of the United States. 

The New York Times has no close rival as an Establishment 
daily. Technological advance is making it possible for the Times 
to become a national newspaper. This development should add 
immeasurably to the growth of the institution's powers. 

Most Establishment personnel get at least one newspaper 
besides the Times, in order to keep up with Walter Lippmann 
and Joseph Alsop. Papers that carry both these columnists are 
in good standing with the Establishment and get a lot of advertis 
ing that way. 

There are some specialized magazines but none of general 
circulation that can be described as official or semiofficial organs. 
I have pondered long over the case of Time and have concluded 
that it has no real place in the Establishment. It goes too far in 
attacking Establishment positions and it has treated many Estab 
lishment members with extreme discourtesy and at times with 
vulgarity. The Establishment fears Time, of course, and it now 
and then shows cravenness in its attempts to appease it by 
putting Henry Luce on some commission or other (on freedom of 
the press, national goals, and so forth), or by giving his wife some 

*I am indebted for this list to F. W. Dupee's illuminating study "The 
Suddeys of Wildercliff and the Origins of the Establishment," No. IV in the 
Occasional Papers published by the Mid-Hudson Historical Society. Mr. 
Dupee is professor of English at Columbia University and perhaps the 
country's leading authority on Henry James. 

jy The American Establishment 

political job. But the Luce publications generally must be con 
sidered as outside the Establishment. 

Now that control of Newsweek has passed to Philip L. Graham, 
publisher of the Washington Post, it may be that the Establish 
ment will adopt it as an official weekly. 

US. News & World Report is widely read but held in low 

Foreign Affairs has, within its field, the authority of Pravda 
and Izvestia. 

Harper's, the Atlantic, and the New Yorker all have Establish 
ment clienteles but none can be regarded as official. The Saturday 
Review was once heavily patronized but no longer is. The New 
Republic is coming up. The Nation has long since gone down. 
A few of the younger Establishment intellectuals read Partisan 
Review, but the more sophisticated ones regard it as stuffy and 
prefer The Noble Savage, edited by Saul Bellow and issued at 
irregular intervals by the World Publishing Company. 

As Thomas R. Waring, the noted Southern journalist, has 
pointed out, "The significance of the Establishment can be dis 
covered by finding out who is not a member." No one has yet 
compiled a complete list of nonmembers, but the following 
names may help significance-seekers to get their bearings. These 
people are known to be nonmembers: 

The Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson, Vice-President of the 

United States. 

Frank McGehee, director, Nation-Indignation Convention. 
The Honorable Richard M. Nixon, former Vice-President of 

the United States. 

E. B. Germany, Board Chairman, Lone Star Steel. 
The Honorable John Nance Garner, former Vice-President of 

the United States. 
Cus d'Amato, prominent New York sportsman and manager of 

Floyd Patterson, heavyweight champion of the world. 
J. Edgar Hoover, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation. 
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. 
Allen Ginsberg, poet. 


The Honorable James A. Farley, former Chairman, Demo 
cratic National Committee. 

Gus Hall, general secretary, National Committee, Communist 
Party, U.S.A. 

Fowler Harbison, President, Ramona College. 

James Hoffa, President, International Brotherhood of Team 

Hetherington Wells, Chairman of the Board, Consolidated 
Hydraulics, Inc. 

Spruille Braden, diplomatist. (Here is a curious case indeed. 
Ambassador Braden has held many leading positions in the 
Establishment and is even now a member of the Council on 
Foreign Relations. But he is also a member of the Council of 
the John Birch Society. He was read out of the Establish 
ment on April 14, 1960, before his John Birch connections 
were known.) 

Sherman Adams, formerly the assistant to the President of the 
United States. 

Edgar Queeny, President, Monsanto Chemical Corporation. 

Charles Goren, bridge expert. 

Charles A. Lindbergh, aviator. 

Stan ton Evans, editor, Indianapolis News, 

The Honorable John McCormack, Speaker, House of Repre 

Archbishop Theodotus, Holy Orthodox: Church in America. 

The Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, pastor, Fifth Avenue 
Presbyterian Church and author of The Power of Positive 

Cyrus M. Eaton, industrialist and philanthropist. 

The Honorable Everett McKinley Dirksen, United States 
Senator from Illinois and Senate minority leader. 

Dr. Edward Teller, nuclear physicist, often known as "Father 
of the Hydrogen Bomb/' 

Conrad Hilton, hotel executive. 

The Honorable Thomas Hughes, Governor of New Jersey. 

Michael J. Quill, President, Transport Workers Union. 

Morris Fishbein, MJD. S editor and official, American Medical 

jp The American Establishment 

George Sokolsky, syndicated columnist. 
Duke Snider, outfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers. 
John L. Lewis, President, United Mine Workers of America. 
Carleton Putnam, writer, former Chairman of the Board, 
Delta Air Lines. 

The Establishment has in its top councils some people who 
appear to the unsophisticated to be oppositionists. For example, 
Norman Thomas, the Socialist leader; Norman Mailer, the self- 
styled "hipster" novelist; and Norman Podhoretz, the firebrand 
editor of Commentary, all enjoy close relations with leading 
figures on the Executive Committee. The Reverend Martin 
Luther King has been proposed for membership on the Executive 
Committee. In 1957, a planning committee met for two days at 
the Royalton Hotel in New York and reported that "we need in 
formed, constructive criticism fully as much as we need support" 
and urged the recruitment of "people who will take a long, cold 
look at our policies and procedures and candidly advise us of any 
weaknesses they see. We recommend that in the cases of people 
playing this indispensable role of 'devil's advocate/ all discipline 
be suspended/' 

It is interesting to observe the workings of the Establishment 
in Presidential politics. As I have pointed out, it rarely fails to 
get one of its members, or at least one of its allies, into the White 
House. In fact, it generally is able to see to it that both nominees 
are men acceptable to it. It is never quite powerful enough, 
though, to control a nominating convention or actually to dictate 
nominations. National conventions represent regional interests 
much as Congress does, and there is always a good deal of 
unarticulated but nonetheless powerful anti-Establishment senti 
ment at the quadrennial gatherings of both Republicans and 
Democrats. Nevertheless, the great unwashed who man the 
delegations understand almost intuitively, it seems that they 
cannot win without the Establishment, and the more responsible 
among them have the foresight to realize that even if they did 
win they could not run the country without assistance from the 
Executive Committee. Over the years, a deal has been worked out 


that is almost an operating rule of American politics. I am 
indebted to the novelist Margaret Creal for this concise formula 
tion of it: 

"When an Establishment man is nominated for the Presidency 
by either party., the Vice-Presidential candidate must be drawn 
from outside the Establishment. When, as has occasionally hap 
pened, the Establishment is denied the Presidential nomination, 
it must be given the Vice-Presidential nomination." 

The system has worked almost perfectly for the last thirty 
years. In that time, the only non-Establishment man in the White 
House has been Harry Truman, and he had been Franklin 
Roosevelt's non-Establishment Vice-President. Putting Henry 
Wallace aside as a pretty far-out case and not counting Alben 
Barkley (a Vice-President's Vice-President), the Vice-Presidents 
have all been non-Establishment: John Nance Garner, Harry 
Truman, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson. 

Now observe what happens when the Establishment has to 
yield first place, as it had to do at the Republican convention in 
1960. Richard Nixon, a non-Establishment Vice-President, simply 
could not be denied the Presidential nomination. So the Estab 
lishment Republicans demanded and of course obtained Henry 
Cabot Lodge. There was a similar case in 1936, when the 
Republicans went outside the Establishment to nominate Alf 
Landon for first place. The Vice-Presidential candidate was 
Colonel Frank Knox, the publisher of the Chicago Daily News, 
a Lippmann-Alsop paper, and later Roosevelt's Secretary of War. 
Four years later, the Establishment nominated Wendell Willkie 
on the Republican ticket and agreed to Charles McNary, dis 
tinctly non-Establishment. In 1944, it was Dewey (Establishment) 
and Bricker (Non). The Establishment was particularly powerful 
in 1948 and not only got Dewey again but Earl Warren. In 1952, 
the usual deal was made in both parties: Eisenhower versus 
Stevenson (Establishment) and Nixon and Sparkman (Non). 
Same thing in 1956, with Estes Kefauver in for Sparkman. 

The Russians have caught on to the existence of the Estab 
lishment and understand some of its workings quite well. Nikita 

^x The American Establishment 

Khrushchev showed himself to be no slouch when he told Walter 
Lippmann, last spring, that President Kennedy was controlled by 
Nelson Rockefeller. Many people regarded this as depressing evi 
dence of the grip of old-school Marxism on Khrushchev's mind. 
They thought he was mistaking a faded symbol of industrial and 
mercantile power for the real wielder of authority under People's 
Capitalism. He was doing nothing of the sort. He was facing the 
facts of Establishment life. Not as a Standard Oil heir but as an 
Establishment agent, Nelson Rockefeller had forced the Republi 
cans to rewrite their platform so that it conformed very closely to 
Chester Bowies' Democratic platform and provided for a vigorous 
anti-Communist defense program. Where did the central ideas of 
both platforms originate? In where else? the studies made by 
the Rockefeller Panel for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and 
published as Prospects for America. Who was on the Rockefeller 
Panel? Here are just a few of the names, left and right: 

Dean Rusk Lucius D. Clay 

Chester Bowles Arthur F. Burns 

Jacob Potofsky Henry R. Luce* 

Henry Kissinger Oveta Gulp Hobby 

Anna Rosenberg David Sarnoff 

And when Kennedy became President, from what foundation did 
he get his Secretary of State? The Rockefeller Foundation, of 

* The outsider inside. I once asked an authority on the parent body, the 
British Establishment, how he accounted for the sudden eminence of Barbara 
Ward. He explained that every Establishment agency (the B.B.C. directors, 
for example) had to have at least one woman and one Roman Catholic. Miss 
Ward was a neat package deal. 



* The Big Hello 


PETER j. MC GUINNESS, a big, tough, happy, red-faced Irishman 
who for the past twenty-two years has been the Democratic 
leader of the working-class section of Brooklyn called Green- 
point, is the first citizen of that grimy community and the last of 
New York's old-time district bosses. "I'm the boss of Greenpoint," 
he often says. "What I say there goes." McGuinness, who is fifty- 
eight, was Greenpoint's alderman from 1920 to 1931 and has been 
its Democratic state committeeman since 1924. He has been before 
its voters more than thirty times in primary and general elections. 
Each time he has done better than the time before. For the past 
few years, no one has bothered to run against him. 

McGuinness is so well known in Greenpoint that he has no 
need to use his surname on campaign literature. "Peter for 
Sheriff"; "Peter for State Committeeman," his Greenpoint posters 
say. A flyer used in a recent campaign read: 


It's no wonder that everyone likes Mm. 

Peter is the only Politician 

in the Forty-eight States 

who devotes All his time to the People. 

Sometimes he is spoken of as "The McGuinness." To many Green- 
pointers, his name is synonymous with statesmanship in general. 
A stock feature story for the Weekly Star, a community news 
paper, tells of the schoolboy or first voter asked to name the 


mayor, the governor, or the President and answering "Peter J. 
McGuinness" or "The McGuinness." McGuinness is not only 
Greenpoint's political leader but its social leader and its arbiter 
of taste. The main social event of the year is Annual McGuin 
ness Night, a black-tie affair that is held in the Labor Lyceum 
the first Saturday after Lent and causes a considerable upswing 
in the tuxedo-rental business. Another occasion of note is the 
Monster McGuinness Theatre Party, held in the late fall at 
Loew's Meserole, and still others are Ye Olde McGuinnesse 
Farme Barne Dance Nighte, a harvest celebration, and the Mc 
Guinness Cotton Blossom Showboat Night, a midsummer cruise 
on a chartered river boat. Possibly the greatest tribute to Mc- 
Guinness's standing in Greenpoint is the flowering of the lyric 
spirit he has inspired. It may well be that more poetry has been 
written about him than about anyone in American politics 
since Abraham Lincoln. An example, from the Weekly Star, is an 
epic ballad of twenty-three verses by Maurice Dee, which begins 

There's a man in our town whom you all know well, 
A few things about him I'm now going to tell 
He's tall, broad, and handsome, with a smile that has won us 
You can easily guess he is Peter McGuinness 

and goes on to recite some stirring events in McGuinness's history, 
such as 

When we heard that the coolies were after our job 
And our daily bread they were trying to rob 
Then we needed a leader we were sure would be with us, 
Then our old pal came forward, Peter McGuinness 

ending on a note of near-despair over the difficulties of dealing 
with so grand a theme in so poor a form: 

Oh, I could go on writing till this pencil wore down 
About the ways he is loved in this town. 
But the thing we prize most is the fact he is with us 
Our tall, broad, and handsome Peter McGinness. 

At a time when people in general tend to be cynical about 
politicians and their motives, such standing as McGuinness 

27 The Big Hello 

enjoys in Greenpolnt is not easily won or maintained. He has 
achieved it because he works hard and delights in his work. He 
tends his vineyard by day and by night. He is probably the only 
politician in the city who still follows the old custom o holding 
court on a street corner and greeting passers-by by name. Every 
Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, in seasonable weather, 
he props his enormous body against a lamppost at the corner of 
Manhattan and Norman Avenues, Greenpoint's main intersec 
tion, and invites strollers to stop and chat with him. "That's 
when I give me people the big hello," he says. He enjoys giving 
people the big hello, just as he enjoys everything else about 
politics. He likes making speeches; marching in parades; attend 
ing weddings, christenings, confirmations, and funerals; and 
running Kiddies* Day outings. He says that the most memorable 
moment of his life came in the closing moments of the 1936 
Democratic National Convention, in Philadelphia, when James 
A. Farley asked him to read, over a national radio hookup, the 
resolution thanking the networks for their coverage. "Bejesus," 
he says, "I stood up there on the platform with the Vice-President 
of the United States of America, Honorable John Nance 
Garner, behind me, and senators, and cabinet members, and 
governors from the states that are Democratic, and I talked to 
the whole goddam United States. Me nerves were all jumping. 
I was cold all over. I'm telling you, you could see the sweat roll 
down me back. Right then, me whole life passed before me eyes/' 
McGuinness can think of few pleasanter ways to spend an 
evening than to sit behind his bare and battered desk in the 
clubhouse of the Greenpoint People's Regular Democratic 
Organization accepting "contracts," the politician's word for 
favors he agrees to fulfill, from his constituents. "I get one hell 
of a kick out of that," he says. "Sometimes I even do favors for 
people in Jersey." A New York district politician who concerns 
himself with the welfare of the great unwashed on the Hudson's 
west bank is breaking new ground in human brotherhood, but 
McGuinness's high regard for his fellow man extends even 
beyond New Jersey. One Christmas he put an advertisement in 
the Brooklyn newspapers saying: 



Democratic State Committeeman 

Fifteenth Assembly District 

Deputy Commissioner of Borough Works 

Borough of Brooklyn 

Extends Cordial Holiday Greetings 

to the World 

He thinks highly of the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur, the 
Day of Atonement on which the pious are supposed to make 
some charitable gesture toward their enemies. When he first 
heard of Yom Kippur, he sent a memorandum to the Jewish 
members of his club instructing them to "do some nice favors for 
Republicans and Socialists." McGuinness is a Roman Catholic, 
but his favorite divine, until the man's death a few years ago, 
was the Protestant evangelist Tom Noonan, who was known as 
the Bishop of Chinatown and who ran what was perhaps the 
best-known Bowery mission before the war. McGuinness admired 
Noonan because Noonan had hit on the idea of doing favors 
over the airwaves. Noonan had a Sunday revival program on one 
of the local stations, and at the end of each program he would 
plead with his listeners to give old clothing, shoes, eyeglass 
frames, medicines, tinned food, and the like to his Bowery and 
Chinatown missioners. "That was one hell of an idea," McGuin 
ness says. "I never knew anyone who done so much for the 
human race of people." McGuinness is probably the only man 
who ever ran for sheriff on a program of making life more 
agreeable for the prisoners under his care. In 1935, when he 
sought the shrievalty in Kings County, he assured the voters 
that the prisoners in the county jail would be happy and well 
fed if he were elected. "Under me, they'll get better meenus," he 
said in every speech. He was elected, and on his first day in 
office he gave a New Year's party in the jail. He issued orders 
that hot drinks be passed around before bedtime, that beef stew 
be served no less than twice a week, and that carrots be served 
at least every other day. This last innovation made all the papers. 
McGuinness, who has a sure instinct for publicity, had called 
in the reporters and announced it himself. "Carrots is eye food," 

sp The Big Hello 

he said. "Mother of God, I figure we want them to be able to see 
the straight and narrow when we spring them." 

McGuinness is always in high spirits. Sometimes he finds it 
impossible to contain his exuberance. On such occasions, he 
begins by bouncing up and down in his chair; then he whistles 
a few bars of jolly music, flicks some imaginary dust from the 
shoulders of his coat with his finger tips, and rises to do a few 
jig steps. "Jeez, *' m feeling spiffy today," he says when this mood 
is upon him. "Don't mind me, pals. It's just me nature to whistle/' 
Once he whistled and jigged in the midst of a solemn speech by 
a fellow Alderman. He was asked if the interruption was a protest 
of any sort. "Bejesus, no," he said. "You know me, pals the soul 
of music. I even got a band on me hat." He calls everyone "pal," 
even people he has never met and is talking to on the telephone 
for the first time. His good nature has endeared him not only to 
the voters of Greenpoint and Brooklyn but to just about all the 
working politicians in town. In the places they most often 
gather City Hall, Foley Square, and the Borough Hall section 
of Brooklyn no one else is so popular. For more than two 
decades now, no social gathering of officeholders has been con 
sidered a success unless McGuinness has attended and done some 
unusual things with the English language. Before his feet began 
to bother him a few years ago, he often led contingents of city 
officials in the St. Patrick's Day parade, which he now watches 
from a place of honor in the reviewing stand. Since 1921, he has 
been master of ceremonies at the annual outing of city fathers 
and city-news reporters at Traver's Island, Whitestone Landing, 
or wherever. He is chairman of the Association of Past Aldermen 
of the City of New York and an official of a half-dozen other 
organizations in which politicians gather to honor themselves. 

Among politicians, one good index of a man's standing is the 
frequency with which he is asked to be an honorary pallbearer. 
McGuinness is in greater demand for this service than anyone 
else in the city. He must sometimes decide which of two or more 
distinguished corpses he will escort to the grave on a given 
morning. The roster of those who have enjoyed his company, at 
funerals and elsewhere, over the years is long and impressive. 
Those on it have included Alfred E. Smith, Franklin D. Roose- 


velt, James A. Farley, Edward J. Flynn, William O'Dwyer, James 
A. Walker, and such reformers as Fiorello La Guardia, Newbold 
Morris, Herbert Lehman, Samuel Seabury, and Robert Moses. 
The late B. Charney Vladeck, a Socialist alderman from the 
lower East Side and a man who generally classed Democratic 
officeholders with sweatshop proprietors and exploiters of child 
labor, was one of his warmest admirers. "That Irisher!" Vladeck 
used to say. "Sometimes he makes me wish I was a Democrat." 
McGuinness cultivates his friendships in many ways. He won 
Vladeck's favor by giving Democratic sponsorship to a number of 
Socialist resolutions. "Many's the time/' he says, "I used to say, 
'Cheeny, old pal, if you got something you really want to get 
through this here board, give it to me, and I'll make it Irish for 
you. I figure what the hell, if something was good enough for 
Cheeny, it was good enough for the other aldermen. Cheeny give 
me a lot of contracts to put through, and all the Democrats 
thought they were mine and voted for them." McGuinness is by 
no means innocent of the uses of flattery. Some of it is a bit on 
the sly side, as a typical and self-explanatory piece of his corre 
spondence shows: 


Hon. Newbold Morris, President 
Office of the President of the Council 
City Hall, New York 

Dear Pal Newbold, 

I am in receipt of your splendid letter, and feeling as I do it 
was most welcome. I was just speaking of you to Judge MacCrate and 
Judge Lockwood, and we were discussing what a fine fellow you are. 

I consider you my very dearest pal, and the way you accept some 
of my friends who have had occasion to request favors and have been 
advised by them of the wonderful reception they get from you. 

Newbold, old pal, no words can express my proper feelings and 
thoughts about you, and while the sun is shining on the Great Irish, 
the sun will shine on us two, while we are enjoying that splendid 
luncheon at the Yale Club and basking in our wonderful friendship.. 

Your pal, 


The Big Hello 

Newbold Morris is the city's ranMng Republican and by far 
its most ardent evangel of municipal reform. He finds McGuin- 
ness irresistible and frequently has him to the Yale Club. 
McGuinness, for his part, gets along well with the reform ad 
ministration headed by La Guardia and Morris. "The Little 
Flower is a most splendid gentleman/' he said once in a speech 
in Greenpoint. "Under him, we know the poor people of this 
city will be looked after, irregardless of what may befall. What 
he done he done honest and he done good/' Unlike many other 
Democrats, though, McGuinness never felt the need to turn his 
back on Jimmy Walker. When Walker returned pretty much in 
disgrace from Paris in 1952, McGuinness met him at a Brooklyn 
pier, threw his arms around him, and said, in the presence of 
the press, "Jimmy darling, me old pal, stay in Brooklyn if they 
won't give you a job over there. I'm sheriff here, and you can 
be me first deputy, me dear old pork chop." 

To reciprocate the affection that other men in public life have 
shown for him, McGuinness honors them by voting them in as 
members of the Grand Benevolent Order of Pork Chops, a 
fraternal organization of large but uncounted membership, all 
of it elected by him. Whenever he meets a member, he says, 
"Hello there, me old pork chop!" He founded the G.B.O.P.C. 
twenty years ago, when he was an alderman. "It's just a kind of 
a humorous thing I thought up," he says reluctantly, when 
pressed for an explanation. "What the hell, I had to have some 
thing to call me best pals. I call them pork chops because all the 
old aldermen loved eating pork chops/' The G.B.O.P.C. has 
held only one formal meeting. That was in 1931, upon the 
occasion of McGuinness's retirement from the Board of Alder 
men. The Board adjourned its regular meeting, and after several 
nonmembers had been admitted to the chamber, reconvened as 
the Pork Chops. There were many testimonials to McGuinness, 
and he was presented with a gold watch, a chain, and a charm 
that he describes as "a gold statue of a pork chop." The Grand 
Master of the G.B.O.P.C. is Isidor Frank, a wholesale butcher who 
gives Democratic district leaders generous discounts on the 
turkeys and chickens they distribute to the poor at Thanksgiving 
and Christmas. 

McGuinness is an anachronism. His approach to politics was 


outdated before he was born. His language went out along with 
cops in jardiniere hats. His face seems improbable in the mid- 
twentieth century. Newspaper cartoonists say they can get a 
perfect caricature of the old-time boss by drawing the contem 
porary McGuinness true to life, which in fact seems larger than 
life. Nast and Keppler, they maintain, never created anything 
half so plausible as McGuinness. He stands just under six feet 
and weighs about 230 pounds, which is forty pounds less than he 
weighed three years ago, when his physician ordered him to 
reduce. He has a massive head, clear blue eyes, and a complexion 
a shade or two off ripe tomato. His hair is pure white yet still 
plentiful He parts it neatly in the middle and scallops it daintily 
over his forehead in the roach style affected by bartenders fifty 
years ago. His nose and chin are huge, granitic affairs that jut 
far out from their moorings in the face and then tilt sharply 
upward. The face, all in all, seems the work of a sculptor of large 
and noble intentions but either imprecise or cunningly ambigu 
ous execution. McGuinness can look as benign as Old King Cole 
or Kriss Kringle in a nursery book or as hostile and belligerent as 
Roughie McToughie, the generic hard guy. He dramatizes his 
belligerence much as he dramatizes his spiffy moods. He clenches 
his immense fists, crouches forward in his seat, and starts jabbing 
sharply at an imaginary antagonist. "You louse-bound bastard, 
you," he says to the shadow he is boxing. "Who you think you're 
talking to? Huh?" Before he was elected alderman for the first 
time, in 1919, he had spent fourteen years as a teamster, a lum 
beryard worker, and a boss stevedore, and had earned money on 
the side as a professional boxer, a distance runner, and a 
bouncer in the barroom of a Hudson River steamer. In those 
pursuits, he developed a hard, agile body which has taken on 
weight without becoming slovenly. McGuinness does not look 
fat. He looks beefy, powerful, massive, and stately. He carries 
his body and his head erect. His walk is slow, lordly, and rather 
ponderously graceful. Unlike the politicians of the era to which 
he seems to belong, he is anything but flashy in dress. He favors 
gray tweed suits, white shirts, quietly patterned blue ties, and 
gray felt hats. He wears black high-top shoes and white cotton 
socks. He owns no stickpins, and while he values the statue of 

-2 The Big Hello 

a pork chop, he seldom wears it. He does not need the trappings 
of regality, for he is regal in bearing. His only ring is a solid 
gold one, set with a garnet, which was given to him thirty-five 
years ago by his wife, Margaret, a handsome woman of propor 
tions almost as heroic as his own. He speaks of her, as a rule, as 
"the old Champeen." They have one son, George, an Internal 
Revenue agent, who is thirty-five and bigger than either of them. 
The members of McGuinness's club once raised a thousand dollars 
and bought him a ring with an enormous sparkler, but although 
they had bought the largest band the jeweler stocked, it would 
not fit on any of his fingers, which are as big around as pick 
handles. "Bless us, but it don't even go on the pinky/' he said in 
his speech at the presentation ceremony, trying to make the 
best of an awkward situation. He could have had it enlarged but 
did not do so. The possession of it is an embarrassment to him. 
He keeps the ring at home and has spent several years debating 
the propriety of having the stone set in a ring for Mrs. McGuin- 
ness. "Maybe I should sell it and buy a nice pool table for the 
club," he says. 

McGuinness has a silver tongue and loves to work it. In his 
twelve years on the Board of Aldermen, he missed only two 
meetings. He made a speech at almost every one he attended, 
generally a long speech. "There's nothing I liked like giving a 
hot spiel," he says. "I guess me pals are glad I don't do that 
any more. I was getting to be a gasbag." Years of windjammer 
oratory have had a curious effect on him, not unlike the effect 
of too many blows to the head on a fighter. He is speech-drunk. 
Just as an old pug will come out swinging at the sound of a 
dinner bell, so McGuinness will break into a speech at the 
mention of George Washington, Pope Pius XII, Franklin D. 
Roosevelt, or any other name that is hallowed in his kind of 
politics. Sometimes he will declaim merely to fill in a gap in 
conversation. One wintry afternoon, not long ago, he was talking 
with several friends when someone came in out of the cold, 
rubbed his hands together, and observed that it was a good day 
for a cup of hot soup. Everyone nodded or mumbled agreement. 
Then, since that subject seemed pretty well covered, an uneasy 
silence followed. Before it "had gone too far, McGuinness broke 


it with close to ten minutes of rhetoric on soup, the theme being 
that the malaise of our times might be due in large measure to 
the lack of the nourishing, character-building soup brewed by 
American womanhood in braver, happier days. His conversa 
tional voice is low and rather scratchy because of the wear and 
tear it has had over the years. Often, when he is trying to drive 
home a point, he speaks in a hoarse, confidential whisper, as 
though he were talking in church. Before an audience, however, 
his tones are clear and resonant and have a volume comparable 
to that of the late Joe Humphries, the fight announcer who could 
fill Madison Square Garden without the use of any mechanical 
devices. The strength of his larynx muscles, like the strength of 
all his other muscles, is the subject of tall tales in Greenpoint. In 
one of them, as reported in the Weekly Star, McGuinness was 
speaking over WNYC, the municipal station, when the trans 
mitter suddenly lost all its power: "Peter raised his voice slightly 
and came in strong and clear in Greenpoint." 

McGuinness is one of the most successful pork-barrel raiders 
in the city. He has got Greenpoint many millions of dollars' 
worth of playgrounds and public baths, one of the two largest 
swimming pools in the city, a first-rate dispensary, a nurses' home, 
a new high school, and an incinerator. These are largely the 
fruits of eloquence. One of his most notable achievements was 
keeping a ferry running for thirteen years after it had ceased 
paying for itself. For a half-century, this ferry service to East 
Twenty-third Street provided Greenpoint with its only direct 
communication with Manhattan. Chiefly because most people 
who now live in Greenpoint work in its factories, the ferry's 
patronage declined to a point at which it was no longer used 
enough to justify its operation. Nevertheless, McGuinness was 
determined that it should be continued for the few who did 
commute on it and for those who rode it on summer evenings to 
keep cool. Every year he appeared before the Board of Estimate 
to appeal for its continuance and every year he was successful. 
Once, addressing himself to Jimmy Walker, who as mayor 
presided over the Board meetings and cast three of the Board's 
eight votes, he concluded a long speech by saying, "Please don't 

55 The Big Hello 

take away the old ferry, Mr. Mayor. It would be like separating 
an old couple that has been together for years to divorce 
Manhattan and Greenpoint. There would be tears of sorrow In 
the eyes of the old ferryboats as there would be tears in the eyes 
of the people of Greenpoint if them splendid old boats were put 
to rot in some dry dock or sold at public auction. Tell me, Mr. 
Mayor, now tell me, that you will love them old ferryboats in 
December as you did in May." (Walker was the author of a 
maudlin song entitled "Will You Love Me in December as You 
Did in May.") "I do love them, Peter, and I love you. You're my 
favorite alderman," Walker said. The ferries kept running. 

The next year McGuinness came up with the intelligence that 
the boats were valuable relics; they had, he claimed to have 
learned, been used as Union troop transports on the Mississippi 
in the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln, he said, "would turn over in 
the sod" if the ferries were discontinued and destroyed. (McGuin 
ness is still fighting the Civil War, in which his mother's father, 
Major James Fee, was killed. He dislikes the South. "I don't like 
that Jim Crow they got," he says, "and I don't like their goddam 
white crow no better.") Another year he said that the ferries 
would be the only means of escape from Greenpoint, in the main 
a community of frame buildings, in the event of fire. "Listen, 
pal," he told Mayor John P. O'Brien, "if somebody set fire to 
Greenpoint and them old boats weren't there, we'd all be roasted 
alive." The ferries ran. 

In 1933, a year in which appeals to sentiment and history were 
largely unavailing, the service was at last suspended. The melan 
choly event was noted in the Weekly Star by Anon: 


Ay, tear her tattered ensign down 
For fifty years it's flown 
And many a heart in Greenpoint 
Will raise a heartfelt moan. 
Upon her decks on many a morn 
The crowds have rushed to work, 
To reach Manhattan's dingy isle 
In fog or rain or murk. 


Her pilot oft has gripped the wheel 

To breast the river's tide, 

While Pete McGuinness, glad, looked on 

It was his greatest pride. 

On many a summer's evening 

It took the kids in tow, 

The little ones of Greenpoint 

Who had no place else to go. 

O better that her aged hulk 
Should ne'er be seen again 
Brave Peter fought to save it 
But all alas in vain. 

Drydock her somewhere down the stream 
And strip her to the keel. 
You can't imagine anyhow 
How sad the people feel. 

McGuinness knows the uses of irony as well as of sentiment. 
Once, in the late twenties, his leadership was briefly threatened 
by the appearance of a brash young attorney who argued that a 
forward-looking community should have as its leader a person of 
culture and refinement, such as himself. The Higher Learning 
was enjoying immense prestige at the time, and the newcomer 
was impressing a good many Democratic voters with his Brooklyn 
Law School vocabulary. McGuinness, whose only diploma was 
acquired when he finished the eighth grade at Public School 
Number 31, disposed of the interloper with a strategy that is 
still a favorite with connoisseurs. The young man challenged him 
to a debate, and McGuinness accepted. After the challenger had 
finished his erudite presentation, McGuinness, who had not yet 
been invited to the Yale Club, rose and glared down at the 
audience of shirt-sleeved laborers and housewives in Hoover 
aprons. Then he bellowed, "All of yez that went to Yales or 
Cornells raise your right hands." Not a hand went up. There was 
some tittering in the audience. "The Yales and Cornells can 
vote for him," he said. "The rest of yez vote for me." They did. 

McGuinness is a working politician. As a rule, he is content 
to leave questions of theory to the theoreticians. He also has a 
strong sense of jurisdictional propriety and comments only rarely 

37 The Big Hello 

on national and international issues. He is an interested observer 
of the passing show, though, and he now and then applies his 
busy mind to matters of high policy. He watched the rise of 
Hitler with deepening anxiety, and he believes that the Green- 
point People's Regular Democratic Organization was the first 
political club in the country to pass an anti-Hitler resolution. 
He could be right. It took the form of a telegram to President 
von Hindenburg early in 1933 advising him to yield no further 
powers to Hitler and to take steps to assure his personal security. 
McGuinness says that his reading of the news from Germany 
had convinced him that Hitler was personally plotting the assassi 
nation of Hindenburg, and claims to be certain that Hinden- 
burg's death in 1934 was at Hitler's hand. "I knew all along what 
that one was up to," he says. "1*11 go to me own grave knowing 
he killed the old gentleman." Not long ago, he took a stand 
against the appointment of Jesse Jones as chairman of the Re 
construction Finance Corporation. "I got it figured out why they 
want him," he said. "He's a rich cheapskate. He'd never let go 
of any of the money. God bless us, we don't want a piker in a 
job like that." All during the North African phase of the late 
war, he disapproved of our collaboration with General Henri 
Giraud, whom he held personally responsible for the misfortune 
that befell General Mark Clark when, at the secret conference 
before the invasion, he lost his trousers and the $18,000 they 
contained. "I'm down on that crowd," he says. "That was a hell 
of a thing, them letting that happen. Any decent leader, when he 
gets someone like General Clark coming into his district, the least 
he can do is make sure no one rolls him while he's there." In 
another recent foray into national affairs, McGuinness aligned 
himself with those favoring the release from prison of Earl 
Browder, the Communist leader. "I say let him out," McGuin 
ness told an inquiring reporter a while back. "There's lots worse 
than him. He's got a very good job with the Communists." 

Like most district leaders, McGuinness has managed to keep 
himself on the public payroll most of the time. In addition to 
being an alderman, he has been sheriff of Kings County and 
county register, and at present he is assistant commissioner of 
Borough Works in Brooklyn. In one sense, his current job is a 


comedown, since it pays only $7,900 a year. The shrievalty paid 
$15,000 and the register's job paid $12,000. The offices of county 
sheriff and county register, however, were abolished three years 
ago on the ground that they served no useful purpose. On the 
very day in 1941 that the voters of Kings County elected McGuin- 
ness their county register, the voters of New York State adopted 
a constitutional amendment doing away with the office. McGuin- 
ness had to take his present job, an appointive one, as the next- 
best thing. He assumed it in 1944, upon the death of the incum 
bent. "I don't mind the money part/' he says. "I don't drink nor 
gamble none, and me and the old Champeen got to go easy on 
potatoes." As for his responsibilities, he enjoys them because they 
are so few in number. "I like this here work pretty good. It 
don't keep me tied down none," he told a friend not long ago. 
The Department of Borough Works is charged with the main 
tenance of streets, sewers, and public buildings. It is run by civil 
engineers, and most of its employees are engineers and laborers. 
McGuinness does not pretend to be an expert on public works, 
although having once worked in a lumberyard, he considers him 
self something of an authority on the Coney Island boardwalk 
and inspects it often. "I trample it now and then to make sure it 
ain't rotten," he says. He has an office in the Borough Hall, and 
he spends two or three hours a day in it, but most of that time is 
spent working on his contracts. He has no qualms of conscience 
whatever about holding a job that involves little work. He feels 
that his real service to society is the one he performs as a political 
leader in Greenpoint, and he regards his being on the municipal 
payroll merely as a technical device to give him the money to 
carry on. It is a public subsidy for an enterprise of public utility. 
"The thing of it is," he says thoughtfully, "you got to make jobs 
like this so a political man can get his work done. If I was still 
in a lumberyard or if I was in a factory, I wouldn't have time to 
run Greenpoint." The Citizens Union disapproves of him and of 
his attitude and feels that he has no right to be at the public 
trough. "The record clearly indicates that he is not qualified 
for any public office," it declares each time he seeks one. McGuin 
ness does not take this seriously. "They mean I ain't a Republi 
can," he says. "Bejesus, that's right." Robert Moses, a sometime 

jp The Big Hello 

Republican who does have the approval of the Citizens Union 
and one who has given a lot of thought to such matters, sides 
with McGuinness. "It's absurd/' he says, "to expect a man like 
Peter to be an administrator. Peter is a leader and one of the 
best in the city. Call him a boss if you want I don't care. I've 
known him and worked with him for twenty years, and when 
ever I've needed to know anything about Greenpoint, I've got 
more practical help and co-operation from Peter than I could 
ever have got from a hundred social workers, sociologists, city 
planners, poll takers, and all the rest of that trash. No matter 
what you say about them, men like Peter have held New York's 
neighborhood together, and if the reformers ever succeed in 
driving them out, take my word for it, this city is going to fall 
apart into racial and religious mobs. If you ask me, that's 
happening right now." 

McGuinness may spend only a few hours a day at his Borough 
Hall office, but his working hours can be long and arduous. He 
is up by seven, and by eight has started on a long round of 
errands. Some days he travels mostly by foot, bus, subway, and 
trolley; other days he is chauffeured around in one of the auto 
mobiles at the disposal of the Borough President. He may stop 
in a doctor's office or a hospital to arrange for the care of an 
ailing constituent, attend one or two funerals, pay his respects 
to a bereaved family, argue with some constituent's landlord 
about heating problems or unpaid rent, run down a loose-footed 
husband and try to persuade him to return to his lawful wife, 
arrange with the head of a city bureau to shift an employee from 
night to day work, and call upon several public agencies to clear 
up various problems of widows' and veterans' pensions, Social 
Security, Workmen's Compensation, service allotments, old-age 
insurance, or any of the other government business that brings 
the poor so much closer to politicians than the well-to-do. He 
also visits a good many courts and police stations on his tour, 
and the possibility exists that he now and then tampers with 
justice. He is reluctant to say very much about his transactions 
with officers of the courts and of the law; he considers that his 
function is at least related to that of an attorney, and he feels 
that he must keep his clients' confidences inviolate. "I never talk 


about me people's troubles/' he says. "But you know how it is. 
You're walking along the street, and somebody you don't even 
know bunks into you. So you give him the back of your hand, and 
he comes back for more. One of that kind you know. You give 
him another, and he's back again. You belt him good, and then 
some goddam patrolman busts in and takes the two of yez down 
to the station. He don't know who started it, so it's drunk and 
disorderly, the two of yez. What the hell are you going to do? All 
the nerves in your body are jumping. Your pulse is trobbing 
hard. You're cold all over. You're thinking you ain't got a friend 
in the world. Then it comes to you. 'I'll call Peter McGuinness/ 
you say to yourself. 'He'll get me out of this.' Bejesus, I got to 
give you a hand on a proposition like that." Not all of his inter 
ventions are on behalf of drunks or occasional street-brawlers. 
Though he does not care to discuss it much, he is willing to 
give a hand on more serious propositions. When pressed to 
explain his point of view, he will do so. "Murder, rape, and 
robbery with a gun them I never touch," he said recently. "But 
something like housebreaking what the hell, the first couple 
times don't prove there's anything wrong with a boy." 

Once every week or two, McGuinness spends a whole day in 
Greenpoint, covering his district on foot. He checks on such 
matters of public interest as garbage collection, playground ad 
ministration, compliance with the tenement laws, the efficiency 
of the Fire and Police Departments, and the condition of the 
pavements. If he sees or hears of anything wrong a stopped-up 
sewer, a hole in the pavement, or traffic on a play street he gets 
in touch with the appropriate authorities. Often he works with 
Iris nose. Greenpoint is today the most heavily industrialized 
part of the city, and among its products are soap, varnish, gaso 
line, and other things whose manufacture is malodorous. One of 
McGuinness's many boasts is that he has made Greenpoint smell 
better. He has forced factory owners to install devices that 
-eliminate objectionable smells and smoke, and he is constantly 
sniffing for new evidences of polluted air. As soon as he detects an 
unpleasant odor on the wind, he calls the manager of the offend 
ing plant and threatens to hail him into court for violating a 
whole series of city ordinances. 

4i The Big Hello 

The close watch McGuinness has kept on Greenpoint has 
produced some unexpected dividends. During the 1936 Presi 
dential campaign, Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke in Greenpoint. 
Before he was introduced, he confided in McGuinness that he 
was troubled by the Literary Digest straw vote, in which Gover 
nor Alfred M. Landon, the Republican candidate, was well in 
the lead. "That was one of me very biggest moments," McGuin 
ness says. "I told him, I said, 'Mr. President, don't you go giving 
it another thought. I got that goddam fake figured out/ " The 
President asked McGuinness what he meant. McGuinness ex 
plained that he had recently assigned three reliable members of 
the Greenpoint People's Regular Democratic Organization to 
spy on the city incinerator in the district. Some constituents who 
lived near the incinerator had complained that horses were 
being cremated there. They were certain they had detected the 
stink of burning horseflesh. The McGuinness followers spent 
three nights hiding in some bushes near the plant to see if 
horses were being cremated there, and they discovered that every 
night, after the Sanitation Department trucks had dumped their 
loads, some men they knew to be Republican party workers were 
coming in and buying up stacks of paper. Closer snooping showed 
that they were collecting discarded Literary Digest ballots. "Mr. 
President/' McGuinness said to Roosevelt, "the people of 
Brooklyn get them fake ballots, and they trun them right out. 
The Republicans go to the incinerator and buy them for a 
nickel a piece. That's why Landon's ahead/' Roosevelt laughed. 
Later in the campaign, he sent word to McGuinness, through 
Jim Farley, that he was no longer worrying about the straw vote. 
"He thanked me for relieving his brain/' McGuinness says. 
"Bejesus, you feel good when you do a thing like that." 

McGuinness gets to Borough Hall at about noon each day. 
He stays there until two-thirty or three, checking up on his 
contracts, welcoming constituents who find it more convenient 
to see him there than at the Clubhouse, and passing the time of 
day with old friends. Early in the afternoon, he goes across the 
street to the press room in the Supreme Court Building, where he 
spends an hour or so catching up on political gossip, general 
news, and sitting in on the all-day rummy game there. These 


visits often yield a feature story for the next day's papers. Over 
the years, McGuinness has made the papers more often than 
public figures of far higher rank, for his attitudes and his lan 
guage, even when bowdlerized slightly, are almost always some 
where off the beaten political track. He leaves for Greenpoint 
not later than five, dines at home with Mrs. McGuinness, and 
then walks to the Greenpoint People's Regular Democratic Or 
ganization, a three-story frame building just around the corner 
from his own house, which is very much like it. His desk is in a 
corner of a large, gloomy room decorated with some blown-up, 
tinted portraits of McGuinness with his arms around Jimmy 
Walker; a faded pennant bearing the name and likeness of Frank 
lin D. Roosevelt; and a huge picture of McGuinness as a brawny 
young dock walloper. He sits down at his desk ready for what 
ever the evening will bring. Constituents start arriving shortly 
after six and wait their turn in straight-backed chairs in a room 
adjoining his office. These chairs, aside from a couple of small, 
plain tables, and McGuinness's desk, chair, and safe are the only 
furnishings on the main floor of the club. McGuinness, who 
admires a touch of color in his surroundings, would like his 
clubhouse to be cheerier, but he says it would be foolish for the 
Organization to spend much money on furniture or decorations. 
"The fellows that come in here," he says, "get to talking about 
baseball and things like that, and you never know what's going 
to happen, especially on a Saturday night. We keep the girls' 
room upstairs fixed up real nice, but down here it wouldn't pay." 
The club telephone is kept in a padlocked squirrel cage, which 
McGuinness has to unlock every time the phone rings. 

McGuinness stays in the club until twelve thirty or one. He 
may see anywhere from a dozen to a hundred people before ten 
o'clock, but not many show up after that. Still, he feels that he 
should stay. "You never know when there'll be a late straggler/' 
he explains. At about nine, some friends arrive and set up a 
rummy game, in which he takes a hand whenever he can. Most 
of his clients want the kind of routine favors he has done for 
others earlier in the day. The services he offers make him a com 
bined attorney, job broker, accountant, and social worker. He 
also, now and then, serves as a domestic-relations court. "It's one 

42 The Big Hello 

of the greatest happinesses In me life," he likes to say, "to think 
of all the husbands and wives I've kept together." His matri 
monial advice to husbands consists almost entirely of variations 
on one theme: "The old girl is always best." "When it's the 
missus who's beefing," he says, "I give her the old song A Good 
Man Is Hard to Find." 

McGuinness was born in Greenpoint on June 29, 1888. His 
father was a brass polisher, and there were thirteen children in 
the family besides Peter James, who was the third to be born. 
The family was not poor. The elder McGuinness owned his own 
home, and when he died, twenty years ago, he left an estate of 
about $20,000, none of which went to Peter, because, he says, 
his father was ashamed of having a politician in the family. He 
had wanted Peter to follow in his footsteps as a brass polisher. 
"To the old gentleman," McGuinness says, "there was no job in 
the world as good as brass polishing. I never seen it that way." 
McGuinness's career in politics began when he was eight years 
old and became a junior ward heeler for State Senator Pat 
McCarren, then the boss of Greenpoint and for many years the 
boss of all Brooklyn. From the time he was five or six, he had 
worked at odd jobs in the neighborhood. He ran errands for 
storekeepers, carried growlers of beer for workingmen, and sold 
the eggs of some hens he kept in the back yard. On weekends he 
served as the standard-bearer for a marching society known as 
the Rinky Dinks. "The Rinks were a lot of young fellows around 
the Point," he says. "All of them was keeping company with 
girls, and the girls marched with them. Nobody wanted to leave 
his young lady friend to carry the flag, so they hired me to do 
it." By the time he was ten, McGuinness was well known through 
out Greenpoint. "I was pals with the whole town," he says. 
"When I wasn't working or in school, I used to sit in the gutter 
on Greenpoint Avenue, the corner of Norman. That way I got 
to know everybody because everybody came by there. People 
would come along and say, 'Bejesus, there's Petey McGuinness in 
the gutter. Hello, Petey me boy, what are you doing today?' I'd 
say, 'Oh, I'm fine, thank you, Mr. Flaherty. I was just sitting in the 
gutter here because it's so nice and sunny* How are you today, 


Mr. Flaherty? And Mrs. Flaherty?' Even in them days, I was out 
there giving them the big hello." One of M cCarren's men, taking 
note of McGuinness's politeness and of his good standing in the 
community, took him on as a doorbell ringer. On Election Day 
in 1896, McGuinness made a dollar for getting out thirty or forty 
votes for Bryan and Free Silver. Each election and primary day 
he did the same thing, and between elections he was a chore boy 
for the local Democratic organization, the Jefferson Club. "1 
knew I liked that kind of work the best/' he said. "I was always 
a great one for anything that had to do with people." 

When he was fourteen and had completed the eighth grade at 
P. S. 31, McGuinness left school, and though he continued to live 
in Greenpoint and to work in the local Democratic machine, he 
ferried to work every day in Manhattan. He was an office boy for 
R. H. Hoe 8c Company, the printing-press manufacturers; then a 
runner on the Bowery, delivering Thomas J. Plunkitt's Cele 
brated Cigars to the Chatham Club, Steve Brodie's, McGurk's 
Suicide Hall, and other well-known resorts of the period. Every 
thing about McGuinness's speech and appearance suggests the 
old Bowery, but he never considered himself a Bowery Boy. 
"There was some splendid people on the Bowery in them days/' 
he says, "such as Chuck Connors and Big Tim Sullivan, but I 
never thought too much of the place. I'm a neighborhood man 
myself, and the Bowery wasn't really what you'd call a neighbor 
hood. It wasn't so tough as they say, neither. Right now Green- 
point is tougher than the Bowery ever was, and it's a decent place, 
too." Later, when he grew old enough for man's work, he became 
a teamster for S. Brinckerhoff Hay & Feed, and worked evenings 
keeping order in the saloon of a Hudson River steamboat. He was 
also, for a time, a promising young middleweight. He won thir 
teen of his fifteen fights and drew two. He left the ring partly 
because he could not see how it could contribute to his political 
advancement and partly because, much as he enjoys fighting for 
fun and honor, he is not the sort to punch people for money. 
He says that he likes a job in which he can feel that he is serving 
his fellows, and he sometimes classifies the various political 
offices he has held according to the opportunities they have 
offered for social usefulness. Thus, he did not enjoy being 

^5 The Big Hello 

sheriff of Kings County nearly as much as he liked being an 
alderman. "Being a sheriff and arresting people isn't a very 
loving thing," he says. "When you sum it all up, I'd say that 
alderman was about the most loving job I ever had." 

On the whole, McGuinness is sorry he did not get more 
schooling. He believes in education. He particularly favors the 
liberal arts and for many years fought for the building of a high 
school in Greenpoint. "It's a shameful crime/' he once told the 
Board of Estimate, "that the greatest mercantile center this side 
of the Mississippi should have no high school for its young ones. 
Woe be to him or they who will stand in the way of onward 
progress of the boys and girls of Greenpoint/' In time he won, 
but the victory was not as sweet as it might have been, for 
the handsome school that was built turned out to be the Auto 
motive Trades High School. He regarded this as an affront, and 
undemocratic. He seems to feel that the assumption behind it 
was that since Greenpoint is a working-class district, it can breed 
nothing but mechanics. "The crumbs thought they put some 
thing over on us/' he says. "I'm going to get me another high 
school in here before I'm through, and this time we're going to 
get an educational school." In one way, though, he considers it 
fortunate that his own schooling ended when it did. He had his 
heart set on a political career, and education might have helped. 
But he wanted to become a district boss as soon as possible and 
to spend no more time than necessary in the service of some other 
boss. By making a name for himself, as he did in his early twen 
ties, outside the regular machine, he was able to become a full- 
fledged leader at thirty-six; he feels that if he had gone to high 
school or college, he might have been tempted to take a political 
job immediately upon graduation and then wait his turn for the 
leadership in the hierarchy of the Jefferson Club, which, like 
most hierarchies, was rigidly based on seniority. In that case, he 
might have spent the better part of his life as a timeserver in a 
municipal office or perhaps in the state legislature or Congress. 
No thought appalls him more. Like most politicians of his 
generation, McGuinness considers Congressmen members of an 
inferior class. To him, the local bosses who pick the legislators 
and tell them what to do are the elite of politics, and Congress- 


men are men, to give them the benefit of the doubt, who, unable 
to make the grade as leaders themselves, must serve as legislative 
errand boys to the bosses. He cannot understand the tendency, 
comparatively recent in this city, of political bosses to take 
Congressional nominations for themselves. "I'd never be such 
a sap as to send meself to Washington/' he says, and "believe me, 
I'm glad I was never in a fix where anyone else could send me. 
I'm asking you, if a man's a leader in New York, what the hell 
business has he got being in Washington?" 

Long before McGuinness became political boss of Green- 
point, he was boss of its water front. In 1908, when he was 
twenty, he gave up his career on the Bowery and started as a 
lumber handler and stevedore in the John C. Orr Lumber Yard 
in Greenpoint. He was soon a rising figure in Lumber Handlers' 
Local 955 of the International Longshoremen's Association and 
in time was known throughout the section as the toughest of all 
the dock wallopers. "You could just about say," an associate of 
those days recalls, "that Peter was the king of this here water 
front right down to the Navy Yard and even Irishtown and 
Brooklyn Bridge. He could work better than anyone, and he 
could lick anyone." Early in his career, he had a chance to bring 
himself dramatically to the attention of his fellow longshoremen. 
He caught a pair of crooked union delegates in the act of splitting 
up the swag. "It was at a meeting of the local in Germania Hall," 
he recalls. "I was in the Gents' Room. I was sitting down. These 
two delegates come in and start talking. They don't know no 
one is there. I'm a son of a bitch, they're divvying up one hundred 
thirty-two bucks they just took in dues. The sweat's running down 
me back. I pull up me pants and go for them. I flang one of 
them through a glass panel door and knocked the other cold. 
Then I marched them into the room where the Lumber Handlers 
was. Me and a friend made them empty their pockets on the 
table. They come up with a hundred and fifty. I made a motion 
we teach them a lesson by using the other eighteen for beer and 
bologna sandwiches for the whole local. Me friend seconded it, 
and it passed unanimous." Before the meeting was adjourned for 
the beer and sandwiches, there was a purge of the Local 955 
leadership, and McGuinness got the first of several promotions. 

47 The Big Hello 

He says that Ms fight with the delegates was one of the very few 
serious fights he ever had. "We had fights almost every day/' he 
says, "but they were just for fun. Besides, you had to do that to 
become boss in them days. The others figured that if they could 
lick me they could be boss theirselves. Most of the time we'd 
fight at lunch hour or after work. Everybody'd stand around and 
watch. After the fights I'd practice me oratory. I'd stand on a pile 
of lumber and give them all a hot spiel on something Irish 
liberty or George Washington, something like that. Me friends 
would say, 'Bejesus, Peter, you're improving every day. Pretty 
soon we'll be after sending you to the Board of Aldermen/ " 

McGuinness greatly enjoyed the ten years he spent working in 
the lumberyard, and he regards lumber handling as one of the 
pleasantest occupations he knows. "Working in a lumberyard is 
like being in a health resort all year long/' he says. "You're out 
there in God's good air all the day long, and from the smell of 
the different woods, you might as well be in a forest. And another 
thing you're in with the most splendid people. I never knew a 
higher-class type men than lumber handlers/' Not long ago, he 
told a group of reporters in the Supreme Court press room that 
he wished to make a suggestion on peacetime military training. 
"If they was to leave this conscription thing up to me/' he said, 
"I'd have the boys putting in a couple of years in lumberyards. 
It builds up every muscle in your body. Lumber handlers are the 
toughest men on earth. Bejesus, if the Russians or somebody knew 
they'd be up against lumber handlers, they wouldn't start no 

Today McGuinness is a pillar of the Brooklyn Democracy and 
will tolerate no irregularity. In his youth he was a seditionist. In 
1919, the boss of Greenpoint was James A. McQuade, who en 
joyed a brief celebrity during the Seabury investigation, when 
he explained his bank deposits of more than a half-million 
dollars by saying that he had borrowed the money to feed "the 
thirty-three starving McQuades/' McQuade was a short, squat, 
and essentially drab Irishman who spent most of his time at the 
race tracks and in the saloons of Greenpoint, places that McGuin 
ness never patronized. McGuinness was frank and naturally 
exuberant; McQuade was inclined to be sly and lugubrious. 


Nevertheless, McQuade was a reasonably popular leader and was 
powerfully entrenched. When McGuinness was getting his start 
in politics, he knew that if he accepted patronage from McQuade, 
he could not become boss himself until McQuade retired or 
died, and at the moment either event seemed remote. He 
therefore undertook to overthrow McQuade, a job that took him 
six years and was regarded by those who watched it as a master 
piece of insurrection. 

At the beginning of the war between the McQuade and 
McGuinness forces, Greenpoint was a discontented neighbor 
hood. In the late nineteenth century, it had been a happy and 
reasonably prosperous community more, in fact, a town than a 
section of a city. (McGuinness and many of its citizens claim that 
it was the inspiration for "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old 
Town Tonight/' It appears to be a fact that Theodore A. Metz 
wrote the music while drinking beer in a saloon on Meserole 
Avenue, but Joseph Hayden's lyric is generally assumed to refer 
to St. Louis, and it sounds a good deal more St. Louisian than 
Greenpointian. The atmosphere on Meserole Avenue, however, 
may have helped Metz in contriving the sprightly lilt of the 
music.) Its citizens, mainly Irish, worked in the lumber and ship 
yards along the water front. It was an important shipbuilding 
center. The Monitor, the odd little "cheese box on a raft" that 
defeated the Merrimac in Hampton Roads in 1862, was built 
there, and in its honor the principal hotel had been named the 
Yankee Cheesebox. Most of its buildings were row houses, owned 
by the people who lived in them, and there was ample open 
space. Salt water could be seen from almost anywhere, for the 
site was literally a "green point" in the waters of New York 
Harbor. On the west was the East River; on the north and east 
was Newtown Creek, a salty inlet that is shaped like a scythe, and 
on the south another salty inlet that has since been mostly filled 
in. But at the start of the new century, Greenpoint began to 
change, both physically and economically. New York had grown 
up all around it, so that it was no longer a village but almost the 
exact geographical center of Greater New York. Its water front 
was too valuable to stay in the hands of minor industries. 
The sprawling ship and lumber yards were replaced by factories 

49 The Big Hello 

and oil refineries, and they brought about an influx of low-wage 
immigrants, who in turn caused congestion. A hedge of smoke 
stacks rose along the water front, shutting off the view and pour 
ing out upon the residential section clouds of soot, smoke, and 
smells. Property values fell. People who could afford to leave 
Greenpoint did so. Few investors could be found to finance the 
replacement or improvement of old property. The city was 
reluctant to do much to benefit a residential community that 
was degenerating so fast. One of Greenpoint's poets, a woman of 
insight, wrote in a local paper: 

Daily neighbors move to other sections 
Where buildings rise in process of erection 
Where bridges close and cars are ever moving 
Where roads and all conditions are improving. 

Yet, dear Greenpoint, noble town of fame 
Year after year e'er remains the same 
Through lack of unity to make a stand 
To fight for the improvements we demand. 

Oh, those on high who watch mere mortals act 
Send us a fighter strong, clean, and intact, 
That we may save our fair town from decay 
And from the chains of unrest break away. 

McGuinness began his attack on the McQuade machine by 
blaming it for Greenpoint's plight and by becoming the "fighter 
strong, clean, and intact/' for whom the poet Julia V. Conlon, 
who was to join him as his first district coleader had called. The 
press was his first forum. Every time he learned of a new grievance 
in the community, he wrote a letter to one of the local newspapers 
blaming McQuade and his organization. He held McQuade re 
sponsible for Greenpoint's lack of playgrounds and schools, for 
the deplorable condition of its pavements, for the smokes and 
smells from the factories, for the garbage in Newtown Creek, 
for gypsy encampments, and for the fact that livestock was being 
herded through the streets of Greenpoint to the abattoirs of 
Long Island City. His letters revealed the mastery of a concrete 
and vivid prose style. "These animals/' he wrote of the cattle in 
passage to slaughter, "knock over baby carriages with babies in 


them, and they knock down Greenpoint mothers, and the bulls 
kick them and knock them down, running into store windows 
and kicking them and breaking them. Why does Greenpoint 
have to put up with this? What's our dude leader Jim McQuade 
and his Alderman and his Assemblyman doing to stop these 
beasts?" Other neighborhoods, he complained, were getting pub 
lic baths and showers, but Greenpoint, which was short on domes 
tic plumbing, was not. "What's the matter with Park Avenue 
Jim McQuade?" he demanded to know. "Don't he think his own 
people are good enough to have baths and showers? What we 
need around here is fighting leaders. Why shouldn't Greenpoint 
be right up there with Flatbush and places like that?" McGuin- 
ness also attacked John McCooey, the boss of Kings County and 
a mighty eminence in New York thirty years ago, who supported 
McQuade against the rebel McGuinness. Like all good politicians, 
McGuinness pretended to be scornful of politicians in general 
and presented himself merely as a long-suffering private citizen 
who had been driven to action by corruption, abuse, sloth, and 
official insolence. "I have to laugh," he wrote to the editor of the 
Weekly Star, "when I think of these big bluffs of politicians 
coming into this district around election time, getting on the 
platform and telling the people what they will give them, and 
when elected you will never see the old blowhards again. If you 
ask me, all this is Mr. McCooey's work. Now, I say, let Mr. 
McCooey and his officeholders refuse us these improvements, and 
we'll show them what Greenpoint can do. Who is this McCooey, 
anyway? Does anyone ever see him around Greenpoint? Our 
motto here should be Greenpointers work for Greenpoint." 
In 1918, McGuinness felt that the iron was hot enough for 
striking. He announced that he would run against McQuade's 
alderman, William McGarry, in the next year's Democratic 
primary. When the Jefferson Club, for which he had worked 
since childhood, barred him and his followers, then mostly his 
fellow lumbermen, he defiantly organized what he called the 
Open Air Democratic Club and held meetings on street corners. 
He ran small ads in the Weekly Star: "The Man of the Hour. 
Who Is He? Peter J. McGuinness." "Vote for the Man Who Will 

5* The Big Hello 

Bring Patronage to the District Peter J. McGuinness." One 
display ad read: 


The best tonic in the World is Happiness. 

Laughter induces happiness, 

and happiness is the theme of our existence. 

McGuinness for Alderman 

He continued to write letters to the editor, and he made himself 
good copy. Innumerable items appeared in the Weekly Star. 
"When you see Greenpoint's fighting candidate for Alderman, 
Peter McGuinness, ask Peter why he don't eat macaroni. He's 
got some answer." Or: "Jim McQuade had better watch out. 
Peter McGuinness was down at the Du Tel Pleasure Club the 
other night, and the boys say the Stormy Petrel of the North End 
is really on the war path." He organized the Peter J. McGuinness 
Greenpoint People's Regular Democratic Organization, the Peter 
J. McGuinness Greenpoint Patriotic League, and the Peter J. 
McGuinness Charity and Welfare Association. The first of these, 
from whose title his own name was docked when he succeeded to 
the district leadership, still exists. The others were wartime 
organizations. McGuinness claimed that McQuade was not doing 
enough to boost the morale of Greenpoint's soldiers. He ordered 
his followers to canvass the neighborhood for money to buy 
presents for the men going off to war. Naturally, this was a 
popular cause. In that war, the drafted men entrained for camp 
in public. Whenever a batch of Greenpoint boys left, they were 
given a send-off by McGuinness and his partisans, carrying the 
banners of all three McGuinness organizations, and by the Full 
Military Brass Band of Professor William J. Connolly, a musi 
cian who was, and still is, one of McGuinness's most important 
political allies. Each draftee was presented by McGuinness with a 
bon voyage package containing food, cigarettes, soap, razor 
blades, and an inspirational leaflet by the candidate for alderman. 
The soldiers continued to receive presents in camp and overseas, 
and when they returned most of them joined the Greenpoint 


Labor Veterans League, Peter J. McGuinness, Hon. President. 
One local boy who claimed to be the first soldier from Green- 
point to reach German soil wrote home a letter that was promi 
nently displayed in the Weekly Star: 

I was thinking [he wrote] of Greenpoint through every minute of it. 
... In the last few months I've seen a lot of Greenpoint boys over 
here. ... I find that most of the boys feel about the way I do. They 
think that Peter ]. McGuinness is doing very good work for Green- 
point. We sure hope he keeps it up and that Greenpoint appreciates 

It all paid off handsomely. McGuinness defeated the McQuade 
incumbent in the primaries and was easily elected in November. 
He worked as a stevedore until a couple of hours before he took 
the oath of office. 

McGuinness stayed an alderman until 1931, and for those 
dozen years he was unquestionably the most celebrated member 
of the Board. He makes the newspapers quite a bit nowadays, 
but the volume of his publicity now that he is in Borough Hall 
does not compare with what he got when he was in City Hall. 
During the twenties, he was the subject of almost as many feature 
stories as Daddy Browning, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, and Dr. 
John Roach Straton. A comment by McGuinness on Prohibition, 
the New Woman, or the war debts frequently accompanied by 
a picture of the Alderman striking an aggressive pose alongside 
MacMonnies' statue of Civic Virtue in City Hall Park was 
almost a regular department in the afternoon papers. He liked 
to give out statements defending New Yorkers against blue- 
nose attacks on their city. His favorite adversary was the 
Board of Temperance, Prohibition, and Public Morals of the 
Methodist Episcopal Church. McGuinness answered its every 
charge. When it accused New Yorkers of general immorality, he 
replied, "New York is the cleanest city on earth. You can't find 
a more moral race of people anywhere." When New York's 
theaters were under attack, he said, "The theatres of New York 
are great educational institutions. Some people would be happy 
if Broadway was a pasture. The hell with them. I'm for the 
Great White Way/ 1 When New York language was said to be 

53 The Big Hello 

profane and obscene, McGuinness was irate. "There's no more 
profanity here than In Peapatch. New Yorkers may swear a lot 
on their impulses, but they never swear from the heart/' To the 
complaint that New York women exposed too much of them 
selves, McGuinness replied, "New York has the healthiest air in 
the country. What if the girls do go in for few clothes. The good 
air gets to their bodies and makes them healthier. Look at Adam 
and Eve. They weren't all bundled up. Think how many descend 
ants they had. Good night, there's no harm in women wearing 
few clothes." There was recurrent controversy over his favorite 
piece of statuary, Civic Virtue, and he was always in the thick of 
it. He did not find its nudity offensive, but he once, with some 
reporters, slipped a pair of red drawers on it. "Now he's decent, 
I hope everybody'll stop knocking him," he said. When it was 
moved to Foley Square, he took the floor in the Board of Alder 
men and said, "It is noteworthy that the Municipal Art Com 
mission placed that Immortal piece of art, Civic Virtue, in such 
a heavenly retreat like Foley Square. I doff my hat to the Munic 
ipal Art Commission and may it have long health and pleasant 
dreams and may the sunshine always rest on its brow." For a 
while, he girded his enormous stomach with a belt whose large 
silver buckle had "Civic Virtue" engraved upon it. 

The papers also followed his doings in Greenpoint. They 
particularly favored his wars on gypsies and coolies. Green- 
point was plagued with gypsy encampments during the twenties, 
and once a local box factory used for its work force a contingent 
of Chinese laborers who came in vans under cover of night and 
slept, some three hundred of them, inside the factory. McGuin 
ness had the law put a stop to this. The gypsies he went after 
himself. Whenever they moved in, he and a group of his club 
members would go to their camp and bellow, "Get out all of 
yez." As a rule, they would follow his Instructions, and he would 
issue a victory proclamation. "I hereby declare Greenpoint to be 
free from Gypsies. There is nobody here now but Democrats and 
some Republicans." But they kept coming back. "I will not 
permit any gypsy troupes to settle in my district," he said. "They 
frighten children, intimidate grownups, and steal at every op 
portunity. They are a menace to the garden spot of the universe." 


Once, after a successful drive against the gypsies in Greenpoint, 
he invited their leaders to make peace with him and join him in 
one of his current enthusiasms a demonstration against Prohibi 
tion that was to be known as Jimmy Walker's Beer Parade. The 
gypsies were pleased to join, and McGuinness strutted happily 
at the head of their band. "They steal a lot, but bejesus they're 
musically inclined/' he said. 

New York contributed no more valiant or resourceful battler 
than McGuinness to the war against the Eighteenth Amendment. 
He probably made more attempts to find a legal way around 
Prohibition than any other legislator in the country. "America 
does not want to be a dry country/' he told his fellow aldermen. 
"New York will never be arid. Let us keep the parched desert in 
the torrid countries and permit New York and her sister states to 
be peopled by real humans." No epidemic of grippe or head colds 
could strike the city without McGuinness putting before the 
Board a resolution petitioning Congress to "so amend the Prohibi 
tion Law as to allow the sale of spirit liquors for the benefit of the 
sick/' "It's a criminal shame/' McGuinness, himself a teetotaler, 
said, "to allow whiskey to lie idle while people are lying at death's 
door who could be saved by it." He worked Greenpoint up to 
such a fury that it voted eighty to one for repeal the solidest 
vote, he said, and probably correctly, in the country. He got the 
name of Doughty Street in Greenpoint changed to Ruppert 
Place, in honor of the brewing family. 

McGuinness's most admired speech before the Board of Alder 
men was delivered upon the occasion of Mrs. Ruth Preatt's resig 
nation from the Board following her election to Congress. He 
delivered a testimonial on behalf of his fellow aldermen, which 

Ruth, all we have to say is that when you go down to Washington 
you want to take along that beautiful fur coat that your dear husband 
gave you. You want to take that coat to Washington, Ruth, because it's 
very, very cold down there. Washington may be further South than 
New York City, but the people there are cold as ice. They don't love 
one another the way people here do. Why you know yourself, Ruth, 
that here in the Board of Aldermen of the City of New York there 
isn't a single man who if you were cold and unhappy couldn't put his 

55 The Big Hello 

arms around you and hug you and make you feel good. But you'll never 
in your life find such loving hearts in Washington. I know, Ruthie 
darling, because I been there and in the coldness down there I nearly 
froze meself to death. So you'll sure need that coat, Ruthie me darling. 

McGuinness was an early supporter o Franklin D. Roosevelt. 
He likes to think of himself as one of the architects of the New 
Deal. He asserts his claim by pointing to a series of resolutions, 
sponsored by him in 1922, which gave what he calls the "per 
dime" employees of the city paid holidays and sick leave. These 
measures, which are, of course, negations of the idea of per diem 
employment, were, he believes, forerunners of such legislation as 
the National Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor 
Relations Act. "When you look back on it," he says, "you can see I 
was working on a lot of them humane matters meself twenty-five 
years ago." 

An example of his resourcefulness comparable to his saving of 
the Greenpoint ferry was his campaign for farm gardens for the 
children of Greenpoint. During World War I, a good deal of gar 
dening was done in the city parks, parts of which were plowed up 
and parceled out to amateur vegetable growers. McGuinness 
found that the Greenpoint children enjoyed working in the 
gardens, and when the war was over he persuaded the city ad 
ministration to let them continue. After a few years, however, 
when his skill at legislative maneuver was getting Greenpoint far 
more than its share of appropriations for improvement, the 
Board of Estimate began to rebel. To keep the gardens, McGuin 
ness was in time forced to employ his large talent for guile. One 
year he got his garden funds from a reluctant Board by an 
nouncing that, to show how much the children benefited from 
the gardens, he was going to bring six hundred of them to City 
Hall for a Board of Estimate meeting. "I knew that would scare 
the bejesus out of them," he said. He told a Board secretary that 
he had chartered several buses to bring them over. "They'll need 
a lot of room, God bless them," he said, "because I want them to 
have their little rakes and shovels and hoes to show how much 
they love tilting the soil." The prospect of six hundred youngsters 
thus armed produced immediate assurance from Mayor John R 
Hylan that he would vote for the appropriation. 


The following year, McGuinness got the appropriation by 
nominating Mayor Hylan for President of the United States. He 
says that he argued for an hour before the Board and saw that 
he was losing. "The sweat run down me back," he recalls. "A13 
me nerves was jumping. I could just see them kids when I had to 
tell them there would be no gardens. Then it just come to me. It 
burst right into me brain. I made it up as I went along." He 

Mr. Mayor, in the history of our glorious country, there have been 
two great Presidents. One was the Honorable George Washington, 
who led the nation to freedom, and the other was the Honorable 
Abraham Lincoln, who freed the poor slaves in 1865. Ever since 1865, 
a pair of old black shoes have been standing beside the President's 
desk in the White House. Those shoes are old and worn, but they 
stay there in the White House because they know that the man who 
used to walk around in them was loved in the hearts of the poor people 
of America. And he loved the poor people too, Mr. Mayor. He was the 
man that said that God must have loved the poor people because he 
made so many of them. Now when they laid Abraham Lincoln away, 
those shoes came walking back to the White House and got themselves 
beside his desk, and they've been waiting there ever since for a man 
who loves the poor people as much as he did to come and fill them. 
Today, Mr. Mayor, the City of New York is going to fill those shoes 
with one of its own, John Francis Hylan, who in his splendid wisdom 
in voting for these farm gardens is bringing happiness into the hearts 
of the little ones of Greenpoint and is showing his people, and the 
: great Democratic Party which has always fought for the poor people 
that he loves them too. John Francis Hylan will be the next President 
of the United States. 

Hylan cast his three votes for the appropriations. The next 
jnorning's papers ran stories headlined "Hylan for President 
Move Started by Local Democratic Leader/' When reporters 
called on McGuinness, he ducked most of their questions. 
"Hylan's a splendid man," he said, "one of the highest-type men 
in the country today." When he was finally pinned down, how 
ever, he said, "What the hell, pals, I don't mind giving out a 
.few nominations if it will help Greenpoint/' 

57 The Big Hello 

After he was elected alderman, McGuinness let four years pass 
before he challenged McQuade for the district leadership. In 
1924, he took the leadership away from McQuade in a primary 
and told McQuade he had better close up the Jefferson Club 
and join the McGuinness Club. McQuade declined. Backed by 
McCooey and the county machine, McQuade tried to regain 
the leadership in 1926 and 1928. He lost his county backing in 
1928 but tried again in 1930 and 1932. The war was bitter and 
hard fought. The two clubs were across the street from one an 
other, and night after autumn night the rival leaders would ad 
dress their followers from their clubhouse steps. The crowds 
spilled into the middle of the street, and there were frequent 
border incidents. "Bejesus, I don't like to think how many 
busted noses there must have been," McGuinness says. "And 
shiners there must have been ten thousand/' And sometimes 
McGuinness had so many Greenpointers parading that there 
were none left to watch and be impressed. McGuinness parades 
were generally held to celebrate a triumph in wheedling im 
provements from the city. "Almost every time we'd get a new 
lamppost, we'd have ourselves a parade," he recalls. Since the 
improvements were for the benefit of the entire community, 
everybody marched, even McQuade and the handful of Re 
publicans in Greenpoint. McGuinness's club members were 
always first in the line of march just behind Professor Con 
nolly's band. Sometimes they rode horseback. McGuinness used 
to borrow dray horses from the John C. Orr lumberyard. "The 
parades was at night," he says, "and the horses wasn't working 
then, so we thought it would be nice to have them in the 
parades." McGuinness often led the parades mounted on a white 
truck horse and wearing a ten-gallon hat. The greatest parade of 
all was held to celebrate the opening of the swimming pool, and 
the list of participating organizations as reported in the Weekly 
Star tells a good deal about McGuinness and Greenpoint: 

Rodeo of St. Cecilia's RC Church Greenpoint Patriotic League 

Black Post 1818, Veterans of The Boys from Bourkes 

Foreign Wars Merry Pals Social Club 

Happy Boys Social Club Du Tel Pleasure Club 


International Longshoremen's 

Italian-American Democratic 


Soldiers and Sailors Kin 
The Boys from Lindsay's 
RKO Greenpoint Theatre 
Chums' Pleasure Club 
Melody Boys Social Club 
Greenpoint YMCA 
St. Catherine of Siena's Boys 


Polish Legion 
Greenpoint Property Owner's 

Alpha Republican Club 


Slovak Citizen's Club 

Lexington Council, Knights of 

Diamond Athletic League 

Greenpoint Chamber of Com 

The Aggressive Democrats 

Bugs Athletic Club 

Knights of St. Anthony 

Greenpoint Merchants' Associa 

Loew's Meserole Theatre 

Businessmen of Greenpoint 

Hospital Visitation Post 241 

Greenpoint YWCA 

The King Bees of Greenpoint 

Along with the parades, McGuinness arranged a good many 
clambakes and kiddies' outings as well as such annual events 
as Ye Olde McGuinnesse Farme Barne Dance Nighte (Professor 
William F. Connolly's Hayseede Orchestree! Prizes for Most 
Realistic Rube! Most Fetchinge Farmerette! Youngest Bald- 
headed Man!). Most of these parties were designed mainly to 
promote good will in the district, but they were also "rackets" 
(the word once had a reasonably innocent connotation mean 
ing nothing more than a fund-raising party run by politicians) 
to pay off campaign expenses. Part of the money went for some 
of the most cryptic propaganda in political history. McGuinness 
believes less in the placards which most candidates put up in 
store windows and on fences than in throwaways the size of call 
ing cards. "With them, they got something they can carry around 
and think about/' he says. He still has some of the cards used 
during the long war with McQuade. One of them says: 






5P The Big Hello 

And another: 







And still another: 


Wigwam Club; noun; a combination of political derelicts, cast on the 
island of Wigwam, with a sole purpose of doing nothing, only dis 
rupting the democracy of Greenpoint. 

Object of these Derelicts: Horn-blowing, wandering from one organiza 
tion to another (no end) doing nothing for the welfare of the public, 
and trying to get a job without taking a Civil Service Examination 
(probably not qualified for the position they seek.) 


Peter J. McGuinness 

McQuade's surrender was a long time coining. On two or three 
occasions he said he was ready to quit, then changed his mind. 
Late in 1927, McGuinness somehow got Mm to sign an actual 
document of surrender, which he still has on file at the Club. 
It read: 

Between now and Jan. 1/28, I will become a member of 
the Regular Organization. 

J. A. MCQUADE (signed) 

O.K. JOHN H. MC COOEY THOMAS F. WOGAN (signed, witness) 
(signed, witness) 

But he did not become a member until 1932. When he did so, it 
was a magnificent occasion, as solemn and formal as the Japa 
nese surrender to General MacArthur in Tokyo Bay. It came 


one May evening in 1932. McQuade and an even hundred of 
his followers met at the Jefferson Club and locked the front door 
for the last time. Then, with McQuade at their head, they 
marched slowly, as if to a dirge, down the middle of Manhattan 
Avenue and down Norman Avenue to the new headquarters of 
the McGuinness Club. McGuinness awaited them at the head 
of the flight of steps leading to the door. He was flanked by 
John McCooey, now a McGuinness enthusiast, and by James 
Burns, the Borough President of Brooklyn. McQuade walked up 
the steps, and McGuinness stepped two paces forward and took 
his hand. He then wheeled about and led the vanquished cap 
tain inside, where McGuinness, McCooey, and Burns watched 
McQuade and the hundred followers sign the McGuinness Club 
roster and give the treasurer their first year's dues. When this was 
done, McGuinness and McQuade went back to the clubhouse 
steps, before which a large crowd had gathered. Each made a brief 
address. "Peter J. McGuinness/' McQuade said, "is now the un 
disputed leader of this district. Let no man say I am not earnest 
in my admiration of him. These ugly rumors must stop." Mc 
Guinness said: "From this day forward, Pete McGuinness and 
Jim McQuade march forward hand in hand like brothers for the 
benefit of the grand old Democratic Party/' 

In one of his speeches before the capitulation, McGuinness had 
said of McQuade, "He is the most despicable man in public life 
today. He is a man who is not even a man among men/' When 
McQuade died in 1935, McGuinness delivered a eulogy. "You 
could always say of old Jim McQuade/' he said, "that he was a 
man among men." 

Most of the time that McQuade was district leader, he was on 
the public payroll either as sheriff or as register, and when 
McGuinness became leader he became eligible to succeed to those 
now defunct offices if he chose to do so, which he did. Some of 
his friends and admirers felt that he made a large mistake in 
deserting the Board of Aldermen for the obscurity of a county 
office. A writer in the Brooklyn Eagle compared his departure 
from City Hall with the "Caesars departing Rome for Constanti 
nople or the Pope's retirement to Avignon." McGuinness in time 
felt the same way about it, but he thoroughly enjoys his present 

6z The Big Hello 

job as assistant commissioner of Borough Works, which he can 
have as long as there is a Democratic administration in Brook 
lyn. But he has one further ambition. He would like to be 
borough president. He never wanted a job that would take him 
out of New York or force him to relinquish his leadership in 
Greenpoint, but he feels that the borough presidency would be 
a fitting climax to what he regards as being, up to now, a thor 
oughly satisfying career. He has had his managers do some 
exploratory work now and then, and only last year a flyer was 
circulated around Borough Hall whose origins, according to 
McGuinness, were thoroughly baffling. It was somebody's trial 
balloon, and it read: 

Knock, knock. 

Who's there? 


Borough who? 

Borough President Peter J. McGuinness 

McGuinness for Borough President. 

He has only once publicly avowed any interest in the job. As a 
rule, he has been indirect in answering reporters' questions. "I 
don't think I ought to be saying anything meself," he said last 
year, "but I will say for me sweetheart that it would make her 
proud as a bird of paradise/' It was in 1937 that he made his 
one unequivocal statement. "The demands," he said to the press, 
reading slowly from a prepared statement, "have been so many 
and so general that after considerable thought and for the best 
interests of Greenpoint, I have decided to throw my hat in the 
ring and declare tonight that I am willing to accept this nomi 
nation should the County Leader see fit to honor me." 

The County Leader did not see fit. McGuinness's day is past. 
Brooklyn's middle class may be relatively small, but it is a com 
munity of middle-class ideals. Its politicians nowadays must 
have a bit more finish than McGuinness has and a good many 
more pretensions. A man who calls himself a "boss," as Mc 
Guinness freely and happily does, just won't do. It would offend, 
as perhaps it should, everyone from the Bar Association to what 
McGuinness calls the Reverend Clergy. There is no evidence that 


the present Borough President, John Cashmore, is a man of 
greater talent or training or capacity than McGuinness, but he 
looks like a successful funeral director, while McGuinness looks 
like McGuinness, the dock-walloping son of a brass polisher. On 
one score, however, McGuinness could pass the purity tests of 
the reformers who influence the choice of candidates even when 
they do not control them. So far as is known, he is, by all the 
standard measures, honest. "They'll never show anyone/' he has 
said time after time, "where Peter McGuinness ever stole a 
single vote or took a nickel for getting a pal a job." He has been 
investigated twice, once by Samuel Seabury for the Hofstadter 
Committee, and once by Paul Blanshard, the former Com 
missioner of Accounts. Both times his affairs were found to be in 
order. In 1927, his clubhouse was raided because it was found to 
be quartering bookmakers. McGuinness makes no bones about 
this matter. It was during the war with McQuade. Some book 
makers approached him and told him that many good precinct 
workers, McGuinness followers at heart, were being kept in 
bondage to McQuade merely by their love of horseflesh. The 
McQuade Club had facilities for betting; the McGuinness Club 
did not. If McGuinness would provide them with space for 
operations, they said, his club's membership would be increased. 
He provided space. Membership did increase. The police held 
him briefly after the raid but released him when the play-and- 
pay-off sheets showed that only the reasonable profit of twelve 
per cent was being made by the bookies and that there was no 
evidence that McGuinness or any other official of the club had 
taken any gambling money. 

At the Seabury investigation, McGuinness was the most in 
gratiating of witnesses. Many of the district leaders called upon 
to testify were sulky on the stand; many refused to sign waivers 
of immunity. McGuinness, who came accompanied by a claque 
of dozens of Greenpointers, was in his usual high spirits. He 
strode briskly to the witness stand, where he signed the waiver 
with a flourish. "Gentlemen," he said to the attending members 
of the Hofstadter Committee, "I am glad to present me presence 
here today. How do you do? Shoot." Judge Seabury kept Mc 
Guinness oa the stand for hours, chiefly, he later said, because 

6$ The Big Hello 

he liked to hear the man talk. He questioned McGuinness about 
his rise in Greenpoint and his fight with McQuade, who, Sea- 
bury had just revealed, had banked several hundred thousand 
dollars more than he had earned. "And then you took the district 
away from McQuade?" Seabury asked at one point. "Judge, I 
didn't take nothing away," McGuinness said. "The people of 
Greenpoint took it away and give it to me." Seabury asked Mc 
Guinness if he had any bank deposits other than the modest 
ones the committee knew about or if he had any ill-gotten gains 
in one of the "little tin boxes" described by Sheriff Tom Farley, 
a large-scale grafter. McGuinness pulled out of a coat pocket a 
wallet, outsized and overstuffed, which he has always used as 
a filing case for his "contracts." "Judge," he said, "this is the 
only tin box I got. It's never contained anything but the heart 
aches of me people, me Jewish mazuza, and me father-in-law's 
front collar button. He was a great old champeen, Judge." Sea- 
bury brought up the gambling incident and asked McGuinness 
if he accepted full responsibility for it. "Your honor," McGuin 
ness said, "there's only one leader of that club. Right here be 
fore you. Shoot, Judge." In time, though, McGuinness grew 
bored with the subject. "Judge," he said, "what do you say we 
bury this. I told you everything. Don't let's be talking about it 
any more. It's dead, and I'm tired of looking at it." Seabury 
agreed that the subject had been exhausted. After a few pleasan 
tries he ended the examination. As he left the stand, McGuin 
ness again addressed the full committee. "Gentlemen," he said, 
"it's been a pleasure, I assure you, having this great pleasure of 
coming before you. I want to thank you for being so kind and 
courteous to me. Good afternoon." 

At times, McGuinness adopts a great air of virtue about his 
code of ethics. "How the hell do you think I'd feel," he says, "if 
I was to stand on the corner some Saturday night and see some 
pal coming down the street and I couldn't look him in the eye 
without thinking, Well, I got five hundred for getting that one the 
job he has today. Why, I'd just feel awful inside to think I had 
a nickel that should be going to feed another man's little ones." 
More often, however, he puts it on a more pragmatic basis. "It 
don't pay," he says. "There's no percentage in it. Let's say I 


tell a precinct captain to use repeaters. He gets away with it in 
a city election, then a state election. Then he tries it in a federal 
election, and bejesus it's a federal case. He says I put him up 
to it and I'm before a federal judge that I don't even know." 
He also points out that he is not exposed to the temptations that 
beset other politicians. He says he has never seen a horse race. His 
only bets have been on penny-a-point rummy. He and his wife 
live quietly in a four-room apartment which seems to be fur 
nished largely with blue-tinted mirrors, golden-oak chairs and 
tables, and fringed lamp shades. The principal objet d'art is a 
reproduction of the "Last Supper" in butterfly wings. Mrs. 
McGuinness does all the cooking and housework. McGuinness 
takes little time off. He tries to get away from the club one 
evening a week and take Mrs. McGuinness to a movie. "The 
wife picks the shows," he says. McGuinness says he has seen very 
little he has really enjoyed since Marie Dressier died. Among 
the exceptions are Mae West movies. Mae West, he says, is a 
Greenpoint girl. McGuinness knew her father, a local club 
fighter. Mrs. McGuinness says she is not among Mae West's 
greatest admirers, but she goes anyway to honor local talent. "I 
guess she does that wiggling just to be comical," she said in one 
of her rare interviews with the press not long ago. "It's the way 
Peter says there's worse things than that." On the same occa 
sion, McGuinness spoke of his own ways. "Right now," he ex 
plained, "I don't drink, smoke, chew, nor gamble. And I never 
go to any of them Jesse James night clubs. A fellow said to me 
the other day, 'If you don't do none of them things, Peter Mc 
Guinness, what the hell do you do?' I said, 'All I do is take God's 
beautiful air and sunshine and, bejesus, I play politics.' " 

En Route with Truman and Dewey 

In the autumn of 1948, I spent a few weeks riding around the 
country on the Presidential campaign trains. I rode west from 
Washington on the President's train, taking a week or more to 
reach Los Angeles via the Pennsylvania., the Rock Island, the 
Denver fa Rio Grande Western, the Union Pacific, the Southern 
Pacific, and perhaps a couple of others. (There was a good deal 
of backtracking and sidetracking.) In Los Angeles, I joined Gover 
nor Dewey's train and meandered up the West Coast to Seattle 
and east across the northern tier by Northern Pacific, Great 
Northern, and the Milwaukee Line. I did not realize at the 
time that I was covering the last tours of the country that any 
President or Presidential candidate would make by rail. I did 
foresee and note, at the end of my letter to the New Yorker 
from the Dewey train that television would alter the nature of 
subsequent campaigns, but it evidently did not occur to me that 
by 1952 the airlines would take over. 

Had I realized this, I would,, I imagine, have written at some 
what greater length about life aboard the trains. But I did write 
a bit about it, and more, I believe, than any other passenger 
wrote. I have reprinted the two pieces without change. I would 
be pleased not to have written on the assumption that Thomas 
E. Dewey was bound to win. But I took it for granted, and so 
did everyone else including, I have always been convinced, 
President Truman himself at that period of the campaign. I 
still have notes on an interview I had with one of the President's 
closest friends the day after we left Washington. I find this 
entry: "7\ says Truman knows perfectly well he can't win, is 


doing this for the record. Besides, wants to raise hell with 8oth 


POLITICS is a branch of show business, and life aboard a Presi 
dential campaign train a peculiar and somewhat wearing form 
of existence that I have been sampling on and off during the 
past couple of weeks is like life in a fast-moving road carnival. 
We are always either setting up the show or knocking it down. 
We play more towns than the World of Mirth or Brunk's 
Comedians (a carnival overtaken by the Truman train when I 
was riding on it through Colorado and Utah), and we work 
longer hours. The average self-respecting carnival stays for a week 
if a town is good-sized, and for a night in other places, but we 
seldom stay anywhere more than a few hours, and we fre 
quently play ten-minute stands. Occasionally, we have been in 
and out of a town within five or six minutes, and have stood 
still for only two. On some days, we have played fourteen or 
fifteen places, starting at dawn and keeping at it until just before 
midnight. Our main concerns as we go along are narrowly pro 
fessional. We worry about the tenting facilities in the town 
down yonder, the availability of baths, the friendliness of the 
law-enforcement organizations, the liquor regulations in the 
next state, and the size and humor of the crowds. The name of a 
town we have been in doesn't stand for a plot of earth and a 
group of buildings; it stands for a particular audience or a par 
ticular incident. To a man who has been riding the rails with 
President Truman, Reno isn't a famous divorce-and-gambling 
city but the place where our man blew a few of his lines and 
talked about "Republican mothbags" when he meant to say 
"Republican mossbacks." 

Ours is, to be sure, a carnival of an unusual sort. It has just 
one act, and the one act is built around just one performer. 
For an enterprise of its size, it carries entirely too many hangers- 
on twenty-odd in the President's party and fifty-odd in the 
press party. Still, the road-show analogy, at least on the Truman 
train (which, I understand, runs on a tighter schedule than the 
Dewey train), holds pretty true all the way down the line. We 

&7 ^n Route with Truman and Dewey 

have our beaters, who travel ahead of us and make arrangements 
with newspapermen, police, sign painters, and soft-drink con 
cessionaires. We have our shills, who get out in the audience and, 
by clapping wherever the script calls for it, help to build a 
good tip, as old carny hands call a large and eager crowd. Some 
of our beaters and shills are men of distinguished reputation. 
The chief advance man is Oscar Chapman, Under-Secretary of 
the Interior, and the boss shill appears to be Brigadier General 
Wallace Graham, the famous grain speculator and personal 
physician to the President. He is sometimes assisted by Clark 
Clifford, Truman's executive assistant and the chief of the 
ghost-writing department. Then, too, we have our Princess 
Bright Cloud Miss Margaret Truman, who, wherever her 
father's friends have been able to stir up an audience, steps out 
from behind a blue velvet curtain onto the rear platform of 
the train to wave and smile at the crowd. This is, theatrically, 
the high point of the act. True, it is not followed by a spiel 
urging the people to lay down the tenth part of a dollar to step 
inside the tent and see the rest of the show. Nor is anyone ad 
vised to buy a bottle of Dr. Truman's Old Missouri Tonic. But 
there is a request to step inside the polling booths on November 
2 and pull the right levers or "x" the circle next to the donkey. 
"I don't want you to vote for me," the President of the United 
States has been saying at county seats and railroad division points 
all across the country. "I want you to get out on Election Day 
and vote for yourselves. Vote for your own interests, your own 
part of the country, your own friends." It seems a rather parochial 
point of view to be encouraging in Americans at this stage of 
world history, but it is obvious that the President wants very 
much to stay on in the White House, and he probably feels that 
educating the masses toward broader perspectives can wait until 
he gets Governor Dewey off his neck. 

It would be going too far to say that the crowds, either in the 
small towns or in the large cities, respond enthusiastically to his 
appeals for support. They don't. There is every evidence that they 
are kindly disposed toward him and that they sympathize with 
him about his difficult lot in life, but nothing that I have heard 
him say between Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles has drawn 


more than a spot of polite applause. Nobody stomps, shouts, or 
whistles for Truman. Everybody claps. I should say that the 
decibel count would be about the same as it would be for a 
missionary who has just delivered a mildly encouraging report 
on the inroads being made against heathenism in Northern Rho 
desia. This does not necessarily mean that the people who come 
out to hear him intend to vote against him though my personal 
feeling is that most of them intend to do exactly that. It may 
mean only that he is not the sort of man any more than his 
opponent is to provoke wild enthusiasm. 

The part of the act that involves the President's daughter is 
invariably the most effective part, and Truman's management of 
it displays a good deal of canniness and trouping instinct. She 
comes on just before the finale at every matinee and evening 
performance. The show, as a rule, gets under way after "Hail 
to the Chief* has been rendered by the local high-school band. 
Next, a local beauty, a local union man, or a local Kiwanis man 
hands the President, depending on where we are, a bag of 
peaches, a mess of celery, a miner's hat, or just the key to the 
city. He has become quite adept at accepting these offerings 
graciously and then shoving them the hell inside his car. It 
takes, by my unofficial clocking, one and three-quarter minutes 
to give the mayor, the governor, and the Democratic candidate 
for Congress the two last are likely to ride along with us 
through their state their cracks at the audience. Whoever comes 
at the end of the procession has, as they say, the unparalleled 
honor and glorious privilege of introducing the President. Dur 
ing the ten-minute layovers, Truman limits his part of the act to 
five minutes. He begins with local scenery, local industry, local 
agriculture, and local intelligence; leads from this into a descrip 
tion of the contempt in which the Republican party holds the 
region he is passing through; goes on to a preview of the Good 
Society that he, given another term and the kind of Congress he 
wants, will create; and, penultimately, makes his plea for votes. 
Then, with a surer sense of timing than he shows in major ad 
dresses, he pauses a moment, looks quizzically at the crowd, 
smiles, and asks, very humbly, "And now, howja like to meet ma 
family?" He cocks his head slightly to catch the response; he 

6$ En Route with Truman and Dewey 

has the appealing look of a man who wouldn't be surprised if the 
answer was no but would be terribly hurt. The crowd's desire to 
meet the Truman women, however, never fails to exceed by a 
good deal its desire for repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. When he 
has caught the favorable response, he says, "First, Mizz Truman," 
and the First Lady, who, like her husband, is more relaxed be 
fore small crowds than before large ones or photographers, parts 
the curtain and takes her place at his right side. Sometimes, 
when the crowd Is very small and friendly, the President identifies 
Mrs. Truman as "the boss" and winks knowingly at the men In 
the audience. After Mrs. Truman and her admirers have ex 
changed greetings, the President says, "And now I'd like to have 
you meet my daughter, Margaret." (I thought it a nice touch 
that, down in the border states, he said, whether artfully or not 
I am unable to decide, "And now I'd like for you to meet Miss 
Margaret.") It involves no disrespect for Mrs. Truman to say 
that her daughter gets a bigger hand then she does; this country 
may be run by and for mothers, but its goddesses are daughters. 
Margaret's entrance comes closer than anything else to bringing 
down the house. 

As soon as the Truman womenfolk have flanked the President, 
a railroad official, generally a vice-president of the line, who sits 
at a telephone in the car ahead of the President's, calls the 
locomotive engineer fifteen cars, or a quarter of a mile, down 
the track and tells him to get slowly under way. As the train 
pulls out from the station, the family waves good-by. Mrs. Tru 
man and Margaret then go back into the car to fix their hair 
for the next curtain call, leaving the President alone on the 
platform until the last switchman in the yards has had his look. 
I am certain that, no matter what the fate of the Truman ad 
ministration, millions of Americans will, for the rest of their 
lives, have framed in their mind's eye a vivid image of the Three 
Traveling Trumans highballing off into the black nights of 
Colorado or Arizona, blending with the tall pines In the Sierras, 
or being slowly enveloped by the dust of the Midwestern plains. 
It will be a picture to cherish, and It will stand Harry Truman 
in good stead for the rest of his life. Traveling with him, you get 
the feeling that the American people who have seen him and 


heard him at his best would be willing to give him just about 
anything he wants except the Presidency. 

As a rule, the Truman show does better in the small towns than 
in the large ones. The President is a feed-mill type of talker, 
and he can be excellent indeed with a small audience. Charles 
Ross, his press secretary and the sort of man who wouldn't stoop 
to inventing a literary background for his employer, tells me 
that Truman has worked hard at his Mark Twain, which con 
tributes no doubt to the raciness of his conversational style and 
accounts for the pleasant way it falls on the ear. In Dexter, Iowa, 
he made a long, scolding speech to 75,000 farmers who were on 
hand to see the final in a national plowing contest that was being 
held on the farm of a woman named Lois Agg. The farmers, a 
happy, prosperous crew, some of whom had flown there in their 
own planes, were in no mood to be scolded, but they listened 
courteously, and applauded every now and then. A couple of 
hours later, after the President had inspected the plowing and 
some tractor exhibits, and after he had refreshed himself with 
some pieces of prize-winning cakes and pies, he returned to the 
platform, to talk informally about his early days on a farm. He 
carried on for quite a while about the differences between mules 
and machines. He was delightful, and the people were delighted. 
When he speaks without a script, as he always does unless he is 
making a major campaign address, he inflicts considerable dam 
age on the English language, but anything he does on his own 
is not one-tenth as deplorable as what his ghost writers do for 
Mm. One can choose between, on the one hand, "gluttons of 
privilege" and "only an appetizer for an economic tapeworm/' 
both of which are creations of his belles-lettres division, and, 
on the other hand, a Trumanism such as "I'm goin' down to 
Berkeley to get me a degree." The language of the academy 
seems to jinx him every time. "I'm only a synthetic alumni," 
he said modestly when, in Grinnell, Iowa, he was introduced by 
a professor as the most distinguished graduate of the local col 
lege. It can be said of Trumanisms, though, that they are genuine, 
that they almost always make sense, and that they occasionally, 
as in the line about Berkeley, have an engaging lilt. 

Truman's detailed knowledge of the small towns is unexpected 

*ji En Route with Truman and Dewey 

and remarkable. The Impression one gets is that he has acquired, 
in his sixty-four years, a spoonful or two of information about 
every community west of the Mississippi and about a good many 
of those east of it. Of course he is briefed, by people on the other 
side of the blue velvet curtain, on current local problems and 
local interests before he hits a place in which he is going to speak, 
but he is always able to throw in something from his own stock 
pile on its remote or recent past. If he hasn't been there before 
himself, the chances are that Mrs. Truman or some relative has, 
and that if no living Truman has connections in town, a dead 
Truman once had. His maternal grandfather, Solomon Young, 
drove wagon trains in the West a century ago, and the old gentle 
man went through an extraordinary number of towns. Accord 
ing to a Pennsylvania Railroad representative on the Truman 
train, this campaign trip is just about the most elaborate tour 
ever made of this country. I suspect that he is referring only to 
railroad trips and has conveniently overlooked, for the sake of 
rail propaganda, those wagon-train trips made by Grandfather 
Solomon Young. 

In the big cities, the show loses a lot of its fun. One civic 
auditorium is pretty much like the next one, chicken-and-peas 
dinners are the same everywhere, and so are Democratic com- 
mitteemen and committeewomen. Even Los Angeles, from which 
something out of the way might be expected, put on a drab 
show for the President. True, there were thirty-two searchlights, 
but they merely showed up the bare spots in the grandstand. This 
is a Dewey year in the movie colony, as it probably is almost 
everywhere else. By the time the Truman people got around to 
renting a place for the President to speak, in, the Dewey crowd 
had leased the Hollywood Bowl for the evening he was scheduled 
to talk, in order, as they put it, to "rehearse" the lighting effects 
for the Governor's appearance the following night. (When one 
sees the lighting effects at a Hollywood rally, to say nothing of 
the neon signs in Hollywood and Los Angeles, one can easily 
understand why federal power projects are so essential to Cali 
fornia's welfare.) The Democrats had to be satisfied with a place 
called Gihnore Stadium. The unfortunate thing about Gilmore 
Stadium was not that it is smaller than the Hollywood Bowl but 


that it is larger. Neither Dewey nor Truman drew capacity crowds 
in Hollywood; as a matter of fact, they drew about the same 
number of people. But the vacant seats at Truman's meeting were 
more numerous, because the number of seats was greater. 

Almost the only color in the big-city productions is provided 
by the automobiles in which we ride. Like a circus, we start off 
with a parade, and though our parades are less animated than 
those of most circuses, they are as musical and, thanks to the 
cars, have just as much glitter. Before I started on this trip, I 
did not realize the odd role played by the automobile in national 
politics. The Truman party was driven from Dexter, Iowa, to 
Des Moines, approximately forty miles, in a fleet of thirty-five 
brand-new cars, all of them convertibles with the top down. I 
didn't stop to wonder how so many new convertibles came to be 
at the disposal of the Party of the Workingmen, in Iowa, of all 
places. Then, riding in Car Number 30, through downtown Des 
Moines, I began to think it strange that the crowds that had 
seen the President, riding in Car Number i, five minutes earlier, 
did not disperse. They were looking just as hard at the carloads 
of rumpled and unsmiling reporters as they must have looked 
at the celebrities up forward. "Sure they're beautiful/' I over 
heard a middle-aged man say to his companion, "but I guess you 
have to be a Democrat to get one." "Thing about a Packard," 
another man said, "you can still tell one when you see it the 
old pointed radiator and those red hubcaps. Hasn't changed 
since I've known it." "Ought to strip all that housing down," 
a third voter remarked. "Ever try to get a jack under one of 
those things?" 

I didn't have time to inquire into the details of automobile 
procurement in Des Moines, but I did in Denver, two days later. 
The Truman train was met by twenty-two Kaisers and Frazers 
and eight new Fords. I asked our driver if he had lent his car 
to the President out of party loyalty. "Nah," he said. "This isn't 
my car. I'm just helping out a friend of mine here. He's the 
Kaiser-Frazer distributor in town Northwestern Auto Company, 
they call it and I guess he come out first in this agency fight. 
"Got mostly Kaisers and Frazers here. Lucky for him. The 1949 
models just come in yesterday, and he's getting a chance right off 

73 En Route with Truman and Dewey 

to display them." It was the same everywhere. There was a tie-in 
with the dealers in every city we visited: free transportation in 
exchange for free advertising. The new cars were seen by the 
President's admirers, and the President was seen by admirers of 
new cars. So far, the struggle has been mainly between Ford 
and Kaiser-Frazer. The Ford people seem to me to be leading 
by about three to two. Denver was the only place where Kaiser- 
Frazer was plainly in the political ascendancy. If the crowds 
have been, for the most part, pleased with the new models, the 
Secret Service men guarding the President have not. In Los 
Angeles, they rebelled. They refused to let him ride through that 
unpredictable city in anything without running boards for them 
to stand on. A search for something with running boards was 
made, and a 1934 Lincoln touring car was found. It belonged to 
Cecil B. De Mille, who plans to vote for Dewey but whose 
patriotic impulses are stronger than his party loyalty. 

As a piece of railroading, the handling of the Truman train 
is a work of art. Any Presidential campaign train demands con 
siderable ingenuity and planning by the railroad people, but if 
the man already in office is a candidate to succeed himself, the 
trip is particularly difficult to organize. The problems of security 
are greater, and so are those of communication. The President's 
train must be a mobile White House as well as a mobile hustings. 
I talked about the train with Mr. Dewey Long, a Civil Service 
employee who for fifteen years has been the White House trans 
portation and communications officer, and to Mr. Harry Karr, 
who is division passenger agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad in 
Washington, D.C. Both men have been on the Presidential train 
from the beginning. A good part of Mr. Long's worries were over 
by the time the train began to roll, but Mr. Karr, who has been 
on the job of running Presidents around the country ever since 
the days of Harding, has to think about each Presidential train 
constantly until it pulls back into the Union Station, in Wash 
ington. Mr. Karr is a slight, tense man, physically and emotion 
ally a sort of Ernest Truex, and he says that his job has left its 
mark on him. "I may not look it from the outside," he says, "but 
inside I'm a nervous wreck. It's been real high-tension stuff all 
along from Harding and Coolidge on down." We were riding, 


as we talked, through the Royal Gorge of Colorado, where the 
cut in the Rockies made by the Arkansas River is only thirty 
feet wide at some points. "Just look out the window," he said. 
"Makes you sweat blood even to think of taking a President 
through here. Let a few boulders roll down that thing and 
we'd all be shooting the rapids. Believe me, we thought long 
and hard before we agreed to bring this train down through 

When the President and his political advisers have decided on 
a trip, they call in Mr. Long and sketch out for him the route 
they wish the train to travel, the places they wish to visit, and 
the approximate timetable they wish to keep. The White House 
tries to alternate between the Pennsylvania and the Baltimore 
& Ohio out of Washington for western trips, so whichever line 
is due for its turn gets it. This last time, it was the Pennsylvania, 
which is why Mr. Long, after getting his first instructions, called 
Mr. Karr in on the job. Mr. Karr put the Pennsylvania's Special 
Movement Bureau to work, and the Bureau, in co-operation with 
the Rock Island, the Denver & Rio Grande Western, the Union 
Pacific, and other lines over whose track the train was to go, 
worked out the schedule. "When we're told about a deal of this 
kind/' Mr. Karr said, "we flash the code word 'POTUS' to every 
line along the way. It stands for 'President of the United States/ 
and it means that when the time comes, they have to be ready 
to do a number of things. Every grade crossing has to be manned 
when the train passes, and I just can't tell you how many switches 
have to be spiked until we've moved on." To arrange all this 
spiking and fit the schedule of a Presidential train into train 
schedules all across the country and back is, naturally, a fairly 
involved problem, but on this trip it was done almost without 
a hitch. According to Mr. Karr, only one regular train has been 
seriously delayed by the transcontinental movement of the 
President up to now. This was a Rock Island express running 
between Kansas City and Denver. The superintendent of one 
division of the line wanted to sidetrack the Truman train, which 
on this part of the journey was pulling up wherever two or three 
were gathered together, at a certain point and let the express 
pass it, but it was decided, after a Sunday conference of railroad 

75 En Route with Truman and Dewey 

officials In Kansas City, not to let the train by. "There was just 
the tiniest chance that a piece of flying steel or something like 
that might have hit the President's train/' Mr. Karr told me. 

"Of course, nothing could have hurt the President, in his 
armored car." At that, the express was only forty-five minutes late 
getting into Denver. 

The train that Mr. Karr had to assemble for the current trip 
is a heterogeneous assortment of rolling stock. Not counting the 
pilot train usually a locomotive and a single car which runs 
five miles ahead to see that no anarchists have torn up the track, 
it is seventeen cars long and includes, in addition to Pullmans, 
diners, lounges, and a car in which the press can work, a com 
munications car, operated and staffed by the Army Signal Corps, 
and the Ferdinand Magellan, the President's special car, which 
belongs to the government and was used by President Roosevelt 
throughout the war. The communications car, which is just be 
hind the locomotive, contains two Diesel engines to generate 
power for its radio teletype and other electrical equipment. The 
radio teletype makes it possible for the President to keep in con 
stant touch with Washington and, through Washington, with the 
rest of the world. News, most of it in code, is received in the 
communications car and phoned back to the President's car. 
The communications car can also transmit messages. Telephone 
lines are kept open from the White House and the State De 
partment to the towns the President's train goes through. He 
can pull up at any whistle stop in the country and hold a long 
distance Cabinet meeting, provided he can find his Cabinet mem 

The Ferdinand Magellan, which has four staterooms, a galley, 
a dining room, and an observation platform, is, of course, the 
last car on the train, and brings the over-all length up to the 
maximum legal length for most states. In effect, it is not only a 
seventeenth car but an eighteenth, for it weighs 265,000 pounds, 
or about twice as much as the average Pullman. The extra weight 
of the car is accounted for mainly by the armor plate, partly by 
the three-inch bulletproof glass in the windows, and partly by 
the extra equipment it carries, including a couple of escape 
hatches and the blue velvet curtain. 



CANDIDATES notoriously promise better than they ever perform, 
but i Governor Dewey manages the Presidency half as well as 
he is managing his campaign for It, we are about to have four, 
eight, twelve, sixteen years of cool, sleek efficiency in govern 
ment. I venture upon this prophecy after quite a spell of riding 
aboard the Dewey Victory Special, the train that has been hauling 
the Republican candidate, his wife, and his entourage of ad 
visers, well-wishers, favor-curriers, and newspapermen up and 
down the country since mid-September. Before I looked in on 
the Dewey campaign, I had acquired some seasoning and a basis 
for comparison by serving a correspondent's hitch on the train 
that took President Truman and his similar, but far smaller, 
group of fellow passengers over much the same route. As far as 
the arts and techniques, as distinct from the political content, 
of the campaigns are concerned, the difference between the Demo 
cratic and Republican operation Is, I calculate, thirty or forty 
years. It is the difference between horsehair and foam rubber, 
between the coal-stove griddle and the pop-up toaster. Dewey is 
the pop-up toaster. 

Everything I've seen of the Dewey campaign is slick and 
snappy. This is in strong contrast to the general dowdiness and 
good-natured slovenliness of the Truman campaign, at least when 
and where I observed it. Truman's mass meetings were all old- 
style political rallies, brightened up, on occasion, by some droopy 
bunting and by Department of Sanitation brass bands. In San 
Francisco, the Democrats contracted a most unfortunate alliance 
with a musical branch of the local parent-teacher association, 
which called itself the Mother Singers of America. The Mother 
Singers were authentic mothers and grandmothers who wrap 
ped themselves in yards of brown monk's cloth and sang the kind 
of songs you would expect them to. The Dewey group favors 
professional musicians, professional decorators, and professionals 
in everything else. All the way down the line, his effects are 
more dramatic and electrifying. At a Truman meeting, the 
President, as a rule, takes his seat on the platform and sits 
quietly, a slender and almost pathetic figure surrounded by 

77 En Route with Truman and Dewey 

florid police commissioners and senators of heroic bulk, through 
all the preliminaries. When his turn finally comes to speak, his 
advance toward the microphone hardly takes the multitude by 
storm. Dewey's entrances are delayed. He remains in the wings 
until all the invocations and endorsements are over. Sometimes 
he stays away from the meeting hall until the last moment. Then, 
with a great whining of motorcycle-escort sirens to hush the 
crowd and build up suspense, he arrives. The instant his name is 
spoken, he comes onstage, seemingly from nowhere, arms out 
stretched to embrace the crowd and gather In the applause that 
breaks the hush. It is an uncannily effective piece of business. 
Dewey doesn't seem to walk; he coasts out like a man who has 
been mounted on casters and given a tremendous shove from 
behind. However it is done, he rouses the crowd to a peak of 
excitement and enthusiasm, and he has to wait an agreeably 
long while for the racket to die down. 

Dewey likes drama, but he has an obvious distaste for the 
horseplay side of politics. He accepts honorary memberships in 
sheriffs' posses and fraternal organizations, but he is uncomforta 
ble during the installation ceremonies. On his first transcontinen 
tal tour after his nomination, he collected some fifteen cow- 
puncher hats, but he refused to try on any of them In public. 
The only time he got into the spirit of things was at his rally 
in the Hollywood Bowl. For this gathering, his local managers, 
mainly movie people, arranged a first-class variety show. In addi 
tion to assembling a lot of stars who endorsed the candidate in 
short, pithy, gag-laden speeches, they hired a marimba band and 
a chorus line for the preliminary entertainment. For the invoca 
tions, they recruited a minister, a priest, and a rabbi all of whom 
could have played romantic leads themselves. At the end of 
Dewey's speech, the marimba band struck up "God Bless Amer 
ica," as a recessional. Dewey was still standing at the microphone, 
and Mrs. Dewey, as she always does after he finishes, came for 
ward to join him. Perhaps the pageantry finally overcame him, 
for suddenly he breathed deep and took aboard a full load of the 
fine night air of Hollywood. Then he gave vent to the rich bari 
tone he spent so many years developing. ". . . land that I love/' 
he sang, and, slipping an arm around Mrs. Dewey's waist, looked 


encouragingly at her. Mrs. Dewey came in on the next line, and 
together they went all the way through the rest of the Irving 
Berlin anthem. 

It is one of the paradoxes of 1948 that the man in office is a 
much less experienced campaigner than the man who is seeking 
to win the office. Truman was on the public payroll when Dewey 
was still a college boy in Michigan, but his serious campaigning 
has been limited to two tries for the United States Senate and one 
for the Vice-Presidency. It wasn't bush-league stuff, but it wasn't 
big-league, either. Dewey, on the other hand, is entitled to wear 
service stripes for three major campaigns. In 1940, he sought the 
Republican nomination as vigorously as he sought the main prize 
in 1944 and is seeking it now. The effects are apparent in the 
organization and planning of every phase of his campaign travels. 
There is far more foresight and far better timing and scheduling 
than in the President's tour. Dewey's staff work is superior, too. 
For example, correspondents with Truman were forced, while I 
was aboard his train, to miss deadline after deadline because they 
had to wait too long for advance copies of the President's 
speeches. Presumably his ghost writers, some of whom were on 
the train and some of whom were back in Washington, were 
agonizing up to the zero hour, trying to make their sentences 
come out right. And then the sentences didn't come out right any 
way. The rhetoric that Truman was given to deliver was coarse, 
gritty, old-fashioned political stuff, with about as much flow as 
oatmeal. Dewey's speeches, which reporters can put on the 
telegraph wires twelve to twenty-four hours before delivery time, 
are as smooth and glossy as chromium. It may be that, on 
analysis, their clich content would turn out to be neither much 
lower nor much higher than that of Truman's speeches, but, 
as one man on the challenger's train put it, they are written and 
spoken in such a manner that they give one the feeling Dewey 
has not borrowed his cliches from the masters but has minted 
them all by himself. 

A conscientious search for the literary antecedents of Dewey's 
speeches might show that the strongest influence is the Reader's 
Digest. They are full of the good cheer, the defiant optimism, 
the inspirational tone, and the breath-taking simplification that 

7 En Route with Truman and Dewey 

have made that magazine so popular. If Dewey's speeches are 
not consciously modeled on the Digest, there are few of them 
that would not seem at home in its pages. "Your future lies ahead 
of you," a catchy line that turned up in several of the speeches, 
would make a splendid Digest title. Moreover, in sound Digest 
fashion, Dewey is promising to start, when he gets to Washing 
ton, "the greatest pruning and weeding operation in American 
history." When the thought first occurred to me that Dewey or 
his advisers might have picked up a few tricks from the Digest, 
I asked James G. Hagerty, the candidate's press secretary, if he 
had any idea whether or not this was the case. "I hardly think 
so," Hagerty said. "The Governor has a style all his own that he's 
been working on for years." Even so, it is worth noting that one 
of the important personages aboard the Dewey train is Stanley 
High, a Roving Editor of the Digest and the author of some of 
the most celebrated articles it has published in recent years. The 
dope on Mr. High, as I got it from Hagerty, is that he is travel 
ing with Dewey not as an author but as a former clergyman. His 
function, I was told, is to advise Dewey on the religious implica 
tions of political issues and on the political implications of 
religious issues. Still, it might be that, unknown to Hagerty, Mr. 
High finds time, in between issues, to make a phrase here and 
condense a line of argument there. 

Dewey's effect on his audience is unquestionably greater than 
Truman's. He does not, so far as I am able to judge, draw larger 
crowds. The business of estimating the size of crowds is, by the 
way, probably one of the most nonsensical and misleading aspects 
of political reporting. Some correspondents make a hobby of it, 
and conceivably their technique improves with practice, but 
most of them rely on police officials for their figures. Suspecting 
that a policeman can be as wrong as the next man, I made a sim 
ple test at one Dewey meeting. I asked the ranking police official 
for his estimate and then asked the manager of the auditorium 
for his. The policeman's count, which turned up in a number 
of newspapers, was fifty per cent higher. Since the manager's 
standard of living is directly related to the size of the audiences 
in his auditorium, I imagine it would be safer to string along 
with him. Then, there is always an element of fortuitousness in 


the size of the street crowds that watch the candidates ride 
through the big cities. There is no way of telling how many 
people have come out of their way to see the distinguished visitor 
and how many just happen to be around. It is customary for 
campaign managers to take advantage of the fortuitous element. 
Campaign trains have an oddly predictable way of arriving for 
afternoon meetings just before the lunch hour and for evening 
meetings just before the stores and offices close. A candidate's 
procession never goes directly from the depot to its destination 
in town. The Civic Center may be only three or four blocks 
up State Street from the Union Station, but the motorcade is 
certain to follow a route that covers at least thirty blocks, and 
thereby catches a lot more innocent bystanders. Possibly the best 
way to calculate the turnout of admirers would be to estimate 
the number of onlookers carrying bundles and then subtract 
them from the total. 

For judging crowds, the ear is probably a more reliable instru 
ment than the eye. Its verdict, I would say, favored Dewey almost 
everywhere. No Truman crowd that I heard responded with 
more than elementary courtesy and occasionally mild and rather 
weary approval. Partly, no doubt, this was because the President 
has a lamentable way of swallowing the very lines he ought to 
bellow or snarl, and partly, I think, it was because he simply 
didn't have his audience with him. Dewey's ovations are 
never, as the phrase goes, thundering, but his applause is not 
mere politeness. Dewey is not an orator in the classic sense, but he 
is a first-class elocutionist, and when he fixes his eyes on the 
crowd and says that the way to avoid having Communists in the 
government is to avoid appointing them in the first place, as he 
plans to do, he gets what he wants from the customers, which 
means, naturally, that they are getting what they want from him. 

The junior-executive briskness in the running of the Dewey 
campaign extends, quite mysteriously, to many phases of life 
aboard the train. Campaign trains become, in their few weeks 
of existence, compact social organizations. They develop their 
own mores and their own institutions. One of the most remark 
able indeed, almost weird features of life on them is the way 
the spirit of the leading passenger, riding in the last car, seems 

Si En Route -with Truman and Dewey 

to dominate and mold the spirit of the entourage. It is under 
standable that this should happen to the staff of the candidate, 
but it actually affects even the newspapermen. Candidates have 
nothing to do with the selection of the reporters who accompany 
them. In some cases, to be sure, the reporters select candidates, 
and it is conceivable that psychological affinity may have In 
fluenced their choices. But the effect of that affinity would be, at 
best, a small one, and it would govern only a few journalists. 
Yet I am prepared to testify under oath that the atmosphere even 
in the press section of the Truman train is pure Harry Truman, 
and the atmosphere in the press section of the Dewey train is 
pure Tom Dewey. One is like life in the back rooms at District 
Headquarters, the other like life in the Greenwich Country Club. 
The favorite beverage in the club cars on the Truman train, when 
I was on it, was the Kentucky bourbon highball, before, during, 
and after meals. I don't recall seeing a single cocktail served. 
Highballs are often seen on the Dewey train, but Martinis and 
Manhattans are more In vogue. The principal diversion on the 
Truman train was poker, generally seven-card stud. At least 
two games were always in progress. If any poker is played on the 
Dewey train, it is played behind closed compartment doors. 
There are, however, several spirited bridge games going on all 
the time. 

It may be that the correspondents with Truman took to the 
more rugged forms of recreation because their life was more 
rugged. Life with Truman was not exactly primitive but, com 
pared to life with Dewey, it was hard. If you wanted anything 
laundered, you did It yourself, in a Pullman basin. When you 
detrained anywhere for an overnight stay, it was every man for 
himself. You carried your duffel and scrabbled for your food. 
If a man was such a slave to duty that he felt obliged to hear 
what the President said in his back-platform addresses, he had to 
climb down off the train, run to the rear end, mingle with the 
crowd, and listen. Often, this was a hazardous undertaking, 
for the President was given to speaking late at night to crowds 
precariously assembled on sections of roadbed built up fifteen 
or twenty feet above the surrounding land. The natives knew 
the contours of the ground, but the reporters did not, and more 


than one of them tumbled down a cindery embankment. The 
Dewey organization sees that none of these inconveniences 
trouble the life of anyone on the Governor's train. Whenever 
the Dewey train stops overnight, luggage vanishes from your 
berth and is waiting for you in the hotel room you have been 
assigned. Good Republican caterers have hot coffee and thick 
roast-beef sandwiches waiting in the press rooms at every stop 
over. Laundries are alerted a thousand miles ahead to be ready 
to turn out heavy loads in a few hours. There is really no need for 
anyone to bestir himself and risk his life to hear the whistle-stop 
speeches, since almost the entire train is wired for sound and the 
words of the Governor are carried over the public-address system. 

Truman and Dewey are contrasting types, but in many 
fundamental ways they act on roughly the same principles and 
proceed toward roughly the same ends. Office-seeking is a great 
leveler. Most men who engage in it are sooner or later forced to 
abandon themselves to the ancient practices of audience-flatter 
ing, enemy-vilifying, name-remembering, moon-promising, and 
the like. In these matters, the 1948 candidates are just about neck 
and neck. Offhand, I would say that Truman is working a little 
harder at enemy-vilifying and name-remembering, while Dewey 
looks a little stronger in audience-flattering and also has a slight 
edge in the scope and beauty of his promises. This last is a 
natural consequence of the relative positions of the two men. 
Truman, being in office, can hardly claim the ability to deliver 
in a second term what he has manifestly been unable to deliver 
in his first. There is no one, however, to gainsay Dewey when 
he asserts that under his leadership "every American will walk 
forward side by side with every other American." Some drill- 
masters might quibble over the difficulty of achieving such a 
formation, but no one pays any attention to logic in this season 
of the quadrennium. 

It is probably a good thing for the sanity of the republic that 
we do have this suspension of logic during campaigns, for the fact 
is that reason is outraged not only by the speeches of the candi 
dates but by the very idea of this traveling up and down the 
country to make them. I have been unable to find, on the Dewey 

8$ En Route with Truman and Dewey 

train, the Truman train, or anywhere else, a single impartial and 
responsible observer of national affairs who is willing to defend 
the thesis that this tearing around will affect the electoral vote in 
even one state. There are, no doubt, some people in every com 
munity who will vote for the man who says the pleasantest things 
about the local crop and the local rainfall, but their number is 
probably balanced by the number of intelligent citizens who will 
decide, the next morning, to vote against the man who disturbed 
their children's rest by roaring through the night, surrounded by 
a hundred motorcycle cops with a hundred sirens, so that he could 
deliver an address pointing out that the Republicans invented 
the Depression or that the Democrats invented Communism. 
Nobody knows exactly why or when people switch political al 
legiances, but it is known that an insignificant number of them 
do during a campaign. Jim Farley said, in the early Roosevelt 
days, that every vote in the country was frozen by October i, and 
the work done by Mr. Roper and Dr. Gallup indicates that the 
results are settled long before that. 

In theory, the institution of the traveling campaign is edu 
cational as well as political. It gives the voters a chance to hear 
the candidates and learn their views first-hand. No doubt the 
theory had great merit a century ago, but today it is possible 
for any citizen to hear the candidates' voices and to learn their 
views in his own home, where the acoustics are a good deal better 
than in a stadium or auditorium. If an appraisal of views is the 
important goal, the conscientious citizen must attend to that 
matter between campaigns, not during them, for what he gets 
around election time is not a candidate's idea of things but his 
own, as nearly as the candidate is able to figure it out and re 
produce it. One could also argue that it is a healthy thing in a 
democracy for the people to see their Presidents and Presidents- 
to-be, to give them the once-over and observe what psychologists 
call their "expressive movements." This notion has some measure 
of plausibility, but it will be harder to find it four years from 
now, when, they tell us, television will be installed in every 
American home that today has radio. There will be no reason 
then for not chopping the observation platform from some obso- 


lete Pullman, setting it up in a television studio, and hiring a 
few extras to lug aboard the baskets of apples, the Stetsons, and 
the bouquets. 

One feature of the old ritual, however, will be beyond the 
grasp of science for quite a while yet. That is handshaking. 
"Hell's bells!" a political adviser on one of the trains said to me. 
"Everybody knows that we don't go through all this business to 
win friends or influence people. We go through it to keep the 
friends we've already got. The only important thing that happens 
on this train is the handshaking and hello-there-jacking that go 
on back in the caboose. We've got a party organization to keep 
going, and the best way to keep it going is to have the big men 
in the party get out and say nice things to the little men. I don't 
care which party it is. It means everything to the strangers you 
see in the club cars to go back home and tell how they rode 
down to the state line with the big wheel and how, when they 
went into his private car, he remembered them well from his last 
swing around the country. If you think party organizations are 
not a good and necessary thing in a democracy, then you can 
write all this off as a lot of nonsense. If you think they're im 
portant, then you can't deny the usefulness of these trips/* Stated 
in those terms, the question is a weighty one. 

Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

On April 4, 1952, 1 rode from Washington to New York on the 
Morning Congressional with a friend, Newbold Morris* and had 
him tell me, in as much detail as he could recall, the story of 
his two months' sojourn in the capital. He had gone there at the 
request of the Democratic administration to try to clean up what 
General Eisenhower and the Republicans were, in the Presi 
dential campaign that was shortly to follow, to call "the mess in 
Washington.'" Messes follow one another so rapidly in Washing 
ton and resemble one another so closely that the latest one tends 
to drive the earlier ones from our memories. Of the "mess'' of 
which General Eisenhower spoke so often, it can be said, first of 
all, that it existed, and, second, that it was probably more wide 
spread in the sense of involving greater numbers of people 
than anything in the Eisenhower administration. On the other 
hand, no figure of the eminence of Sherman Adams, whose 
troubles are briefly discussed elsewhere in this book, was impli 
cated, and there were no scandals of the magnitude of that in 
volving the Dixon-Yates contract. But there were on the federal 
payroll in 1952 a large number of people whose notions of 
public service were deficient and there was quite a bit of graft 
"mink coats" and "deep-freezers" being the symbolic payoffs of 
that particular set of scandals. 

At the bottom of this affair, it always seemed to me, was the 
fact that Harry Truman, a man whose surprising gifts and 
gallantry may have offset but did not overcome his limitations, 
decided that he would insist upon the highest standards of pub- 


lie service in those parts of the government responsible -for 
policy and strategy in foreign affairs but would not himself 
attempt to police those agencies that dealt with domestic affairs. 
This may simply have been an unconscious recognition of his 
inability to deal with everything at once, as well as of his 
politician's desire to help and protect his political friends. At any 
rate, a good many men who should have been elsewhere got into 
the Department of Justice, the outer offices of the White House, 
the Internal Revenue Service, and quite a few other places. In 
time, their misuses of office were exposed by Congressional com 
mittees, by journalistic critics, and by Republicans eager to build 
a case against Harry Truman. 

In the early weeks of 1952, evidently, Truman told J. Howard 
McGrath, a former Senator from Rhode Island and chairman of 
the Democratic National Committee who was then presiding over 
the Department of Justice, that something ought to be done. 
Part of what followed Newbold Morris told me on the train to 
New York, and I wrote it as fast as I could for the New Yorker. 
/ republish it here practically unchanged. I have added only a 
few identifications and a detail or two that did not get into 
the first hasty report. It seems to me a revealing and I hope 
amusing bit of recent history. 

NEWBOLD MORRIS, the irregular Republican who served for two 
months as Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United 
States and was relieved on April 3 by the then Attorney General, 
J. Howard McGrath, who himself resigned a few hours after 
firing Morris, first heard of the job on Monday, January 28. 
Morris was at his office, in the firm of Lovejoy, Morris, Wasson & 
Huppuch, at 52 Wall Street, getting ready to go home on the 
subway after a day he describes as having been spent, like most 
of his days, "punctuating wills and contracts" when he received 
a telephone call from Peyton Ford, who had formerly been an 
assistant of McGrath's. Ford was the only member, past or 
present, of McGrath's department with whom Morris had even 
a slight acquaintance. One of Morris's law partners had come to 
know Ford in London during the war and had later introduced 
him to Morris. As a friend and emissary of McGrath's, Ford had 

Sj Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

called Morris from Washington on several occasions before 
January 28, but never about Morris himself. Some time earlier, 
he had wanted Morris to join in an effort to persuade Morris's 
father-in-law, Judge Learned Hand, to become chairman of what 
was briefly known as the Nimitz Commission, which was to draw 
up a new internal-security code. Another time, he had wanted 
Morris's help in persuading another of Judge Hand's sons-in- 
law, Norris Darrell, a partner in the firm of Sullivan 8c Crom 
well, to accept the position of Chief of the Tax Division in the 
Justice Department, a post recently vacated by T. Lamar Caudle, 
whose probity seemed open to serious question. Each of these 
requests had entailed several conversations. 

On January 28, Ford said he was calling at the request of the 
Attorney General, who wished to know if Morris himself would 
be interested in a job advising the government, on a temporary 
and part-time basis, in the matter of "systems and procedures" 
for maintaining the integrity of federal employees. Morris, who 
is a born reformer and who, like many reformers and nonre- 
formers throughout the country, had been reading with con 
siderable alarm various reports that the integrity of some federal 
employees was not everything it might be, was very much in 
terested. It astonished him that the Department of Justice should 
want his services on any basis, and at first he suspected that Ford 
was really after his father-in-law or his brother-in-law, but when 
Ford assured him that the Attorney General wished to discuss 
the job with Morris himself, Morris was flattered and pleased. He 
had considered his political career in the course of which he 
served in the Corporation Counsel's office, was a member of the 
old Board of Aldermen, was president of the City Council 
during Fiorello H. La Guardia's mayoralty, and staged two 
unsuccessful campaigns for mayor as over and done with. As a 
reformer, he took a good deal of pride in his defeats, but they 
seemed to him to have been so overwhelming as to preclude the 
possibility of his being called back into public life. "I thought I 
was in mothballs," he says. Since leaving the office of Council 
President in 1945, Morris had spent most of his time in private 
practice, working on wills, trusts, estates, property transfers, and 
corporation matters. It was agreeable and lucrative work, but 


Morris, who went into politics in 1932 largely to relieve bore 
dom, missed the stimulation of public life. His nostalgia was 
sometimes so great that, during the O'Dwyer administration, he 
would walk from Wall Street up to City Hall and wander 
through the building. "If Impy [Mayor Vincente Impellitteri 
was then president of the Council] was out somewhere," Morris 
recalls, "I'd go into his office the most beautiful office I ever 
worked in and check up on what kind of care he was taking of 
John Adams' mahogany chairs." 

From reading the newspapers, Morris knew, of course, that 
the job Ford had mentioned to him or at least one similar to 
it had been offered to a number of other people, among them 
Judge Thomas Murphy, the prosecutor of Alger Hiss, and the 
late Robert Patterson, former Secretary of War, and had found 
no takers. But he felt fairly sure that if honorable terms could be 
agreed upon, he would accept it. He thought he would enjoy the 
work, and he also thought it was his duty to respond to a call 
of this sort whether he expected to enjoy the job or not. He com 
municated some of these sentiments to Ford and arranged to go 
to Washington on Wednesday, January 30, to meet the Attorney 
General and have a talk with him. Tuesday night he got on a 
sleeper at Pennsylvania Station, and Wednesday morning he 
alighted in Washington. At eleven o'clock that morning, he met 
McGrath for the first time. The meeting took place in McGrath's 
home, on the outskirts of Washington, with Ford and the 
Solicitor General of the United States, Philip B. Perlman, also 
present. McGrath did most of the talking, and Morris got along 
rather well with him during the two hours the conference lasted. 

In a statement Morris issued on April 3, right after being 
fired by McGrath, he said that he was not disillusioned by what 
the Attorney General had done, "for I never had any illusions 
'about Howard McGrath." What he meant by this, he says, is 
that he is inclined to expect very little of organization politicians 
in general. But on January 30, despite the poor view he takes 
of all the McGraths of this world, Morris had no particular 
fault to find with J. Howard McGrath, the Attorney General. 
"I explained to him that I had broken a lot of crockery in New 
York politics and didn't stand much better with my own party 

Sg Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

than I did with his/* Morris says. "I told him that if I took 
the job on, I'd want my own staff and a completely free hand." 
McGrath said that he knew all about Morris and that Morris 
was exactly the kind of man the government wanted. McGrath 
also said that President Truman had been fully briefed on 
Morris's qualifications and disqualifications, and had agreed that 
he was the right man. By then, it had been explained to Morris 
that it was an investigator, and not merely an adviser on systems 
and procedures, that the administration was after, and this 
prospect, although Morris had never been an investigator of any 
sort before, was quite agreeable to him, provided he was 
guaranteed the independence he wanted. In the light of sub 
sequent events, It is clear that there was a misunderstanding 
between Morris and McGrath about the meaning of "inde 
pendence"; at that meeting, however, the Attorney General was, 
as Morris remembers it, entirely in accord with everything 
Morris said. He told Morris that he wanted a full investigation 
of the federal government, but he explained that in his view the 
task would not be a difficult one. "He told me that I shouldn't 
let the job disrupt my private and professional life too much," 
Morris recalls. "He said he didn't want me to work myself to 
death, and assured me that it ought to be possible to clean the 
whole thing up In a matter of months with two or three days* 
work each week." In enumerating for McGrath some of the 
things that he felt might disqualify him for the assignment, 
Morris did not bring up his part in the now celebrated Casey 
oil-tanker deal. He says it never occurred to him, though he ad 
mits that perhaps it should have. Nor did McGrath mention 
it, despite the fact that the Department of Justice had been 
looking into the deal for some time. It Is difficult to see how the 
kind of report that McGrath said his assistants had given him on 
Morris could have failed to mention it. 

After the Wednesday session with McGrath, Perlman, and 
Ford, Morris came back to New York. He had arranged to re 
turn to Washington on Friday, February i, for another con 
ference with the Attorney General and for a meeting with the 
President. Technically, he had not yet accepted the job, but he 


had given every Indication that he would. When he got home, 
he immediately began making the necessary adjustments in his 
personal and business life. One of the first things he did was 
sever, formally and completely, all his connections with Love- 
joy, Morris, Wasson & Huppuch for the duration of his govern 
ment work. It is customary for a lawyer entering government 
service on a temporary assignment to make an agreement with 
his firm whereby he receives no part of the firm's income that 
derives from business connected in any way with the government. 
Morris drew up an agreement whereby he was to receive no part 
of the firm's income that derived from any source whatever as 
long as he was on the federal payroll. If his stay in Washington 
had not been so brief, this would have meant quite a loss, for 
his pay as McGrath's Special Assistant was $15,000 a year, which 
is less by far than his average income from his firm, and it cost 
him, as a man with a deplorable compulsion to pick up the 
checks of his colleagues and of newspaper reporters, just about 
all he was getting in Washington merely to live there. Having 
wound up his affairs in New York, he went back to Washington 
on Friday, four days after the first call from Ford. During the 
forenoon, Morris and the Attorney General had a fifteen-minute 
session with the President at the White House. Morris had met 
Truman only once before. That was in the fall of 1944, when 
Truman, who was then campaigning for the Vice-Presidency, had 
visited New York and had received a celebrated and, it was 
thought at the time, calculated rebuff from La Guardia, who 
chose to keep the candidate waiting in his office for half an hour 
while he carried on a trivial telephone conversation with one of 
his associates. Morris had wandered into La Guardia's office and 
had been shocked to find Truman standing by a window, staring 
out toward the intersection of Broadway and Chambers Street. 
He introduced himself and filled in the remaining minutes of 
La Guardia's phone talk by imparting to Truman some of his 
own esoteric information about the architecture of City Hall 
and the structure's close resemblance to an eighteenth-century 
hotel de ville. 

If the President recalled this encounter when he met Morris 
on February i, he did not say so. Even so, Morris found the 

c?j Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

talk with the President, which was the briefest and most per 
functory of a total of three White House or Blair House con 
ferences he had while he was on the job, altogether satisfactory. 
He says that he asked the President If the Attorney General had 
explained what an unreliable character he was generally thought 
to be and what a bitter-end reformer his record showed him to 
be. "I told him he ought to know that I was an opponent of the 
entire spoils system, even when It didn't result In corruption/' 
Morris says, "I explained that I was certain to recommend that 
every Internal-revenue collector in the country be put under 
Civil Service." The President replied he was aware of all this 
and was undisturbed by it. He went on to say that he and the 
Attorney General wanted nothing less than a thoroughgoing and 
Impartial Investigation of the federal government and that they 
would both co-operate with him in every way. Morris not only 
was pleased with the President's apparent enthusiasm for the 
undertaking but was strongly drawn by the warmth and candor 
he displayed even in the businesslike atmosphere of that first 
conference. By the end of the conference, it was officially settled 
that Morris would take the job and would be sworn in that same 
afternoon. When he and the Attorney General left the President's 
office, they were met by the White House correspondents and 
photographers. The two men posed together outside the Presi 
dent's office, and Morris held an impromptu press conference. 
In the course of the questioning, he was asked which agency of 
the government he planned to investigate first. At the time, he 
had given this problem little thought, and he didn't want to 
commit himself with a hasty answer. "Well, now, look here," 
he said after a moment's hesitation. "You fellows know that I've 
only just arrived in Washington, and I haven't even " McGrath 
broke in and, with a flourish of his cigar, said, "I would be the 
first to welcome an investigation." "In that case," Morris said, 
"I guess we might just as well start with the Department of 

McGrath, who was later to say that he regretted ever having 
hired his Special Assistant, has not yet said when or why he 
became disillusioned about Morris. Morris says his disillusionment 
about McGrath, as distinct from his distrust of politicians in 


general, began, in a small way, a short time after this con 
ference. It is characteristic of Morris that some of the things 
that disturbed him about McGrath were things that would have 
given most other men rather a pleasant impression of the 
Attorney General. Morris's suspicions were aroused, for instance, 
by McGrath's description of him as "a distinguished lawyer" in 
a statement he handed out announcing the new appointment. 
Morris also disapproved of McGrath's insistence that he and 
Morris go immediately on a "Howard" and "Newbold" basis. 
He thought it undignified. Morris was even disturbed by 
McGrath's eating habits. When they left the White House, 
McGrath took Morris to lunch at the 1925 F Street Club, one 
of the most expensive and exclusive institutions in Washington. 
"There isn't any place like it in New York," Morris, who is in 
the habit of lunching on sandwiches in his office but has got 
around a bit in his time, says in admiration. "We had six courses 
and wine. It was the most wonderful lunch I ever had. But I 
was numb at the base of the brain when we left, and I wondered 
how the hell anyone with a job to do could possibly work after a 
meal like that." It wa well along in the afternoon by the time 
Morris and McGrath left the 1925 Club and went to the De 
partment of Justice. There the Attorney General himself ad 
ministered the oath to Morris and then released the statement 
announcing Morris's appointment and describing him as being, 
among other things, "a distinguished lawyer." "I don't suppose 
I should have resented that, but I couldn't help being put off by 
it," Morris says. "It just wasn't so. Nobody who knows me could 
possibly describe me as a distinguished lawyer. I'm a pretty good 
lawyer, I think, but that's about the size of it, and the people 
who know me know it." Morris was, however, more than satisfied 
with most of the other things McGrath said in the announce 
ment. It read, in part: 

In asking Mr. Morris to accept this assignment, I have assured him 
that he will have my complete, enthusiastic, and unlimited cooperation, 
and that all of the facilities of the various agencies of the Government 
which I administer or which can be made available through the office 
of the President will be at his disposal. No one is more anxious than 
I, as Attorney General, to have the charge of misconduct in public 

22 Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

office thoroughly and impartially sifted, for I realize that the strength 
of our system of government depends upon the faith that all men 

must have in it. 

Morris started work on Monday, February 4, with a good deal 
of ceremony. Space had been found for him and his then non 
existent staff on the second floor of the Justice Building. His 
own office was a richly appointed, high-ceilinged room the size 
of a basketball court. "They took me into J. Edgar Hoover's 
office once/* he recalls. "It was about as big as my closet." Morris 
was given elaborate instructions concerning the operation of the 
air-conditioning unit, a key to a private elevator for Very Im 
portant Persons, immense quantities of stationery and other 
office supplies, and an attractive secretary, whose usefulness was 
somewhat impaired by her inability to take dictation, either by 
shorthand or by any other method. McGrath introduced him to 
all the leading members of the department and asked him to 
deliver a talk to the division heads on the purposes and methods 
of his investigation. He did so. "I felt as if I were addressing the 
Supreme Court," he says. "Anyway they kept their enthusiasm in 

That first day, and almost every other day until he left 
Justice, Morris was called upon by innumerable young men 
bringing him reports of one kind or another some dealing with 
interesting old cases that had been tried by department mem 
bers, others with the functions of the department and its various 
branches, still others with the relations between the department 
and other agencies of government. All the reports were hand 
somely got up, wrapped in cellophane, and neatly tied with 
ribbons, mostly blue, but none of those that Morris dipped into 
bore even remotely on the matters he understood he was to 
investigate. "I learned a little from the men who carried them 
in," he says, "but I'd never have learned a thing from what they 

Late Monday afternoon, Morris and McGrath had another 
talk. McGrath seemed to have the affair of T. Lamar Caudle 
very much on his mind. It was McGrath's theory, Morris says, 
that Caudle was an honest and conscientious public servant 
whose forthrightness and innocence had brought him to grief. 


As an Instance of Caudle's forthrightness, McGrath told Morris 
that before accepting a $5,000 commission on the sale of an 
airplane, Caudle had come to McGrath and asked if the Attorney 
General saw anything irregular in the transaction. The Attorney 
General explained to Morris, as he said he had explained to 
Caudle, that he personally couldn't see anything wicked in an 
airplane salesman getting a commission. Morris agreed with 
this, but added that he thought a man who wished to earn com 
missions on airplane sales ought to go into the airplane business. 
Finally, Morris says, he wearied of discussing the man McGrath 
referred to as "poor Lamar." "I said to him," Morris recalls, 
" 'Howard, how many of your assistants here do you think are 
practicing privately on the side?' " McGrath answered that he 
didn't know of any who were. "I'm sure he didn't/' Morris says, 
"but I told him that I'd been putting the question to the nice 
young fellows who'd been snowing me under with reports all 
day and that three of the pleasantest of them had told me they 
had outside practices." McGrath said he certainly was surprised 
to hear that. 

A curious episode occurred in the interval between Morris's 
first and second workdays in Washington. On the evening of 
Monday, February 4, Morris was In his room in the Carlton 
Hotel, where he lived throughout the two-month stay, when he 
received a telephone call from a man who identified himself 
as Rex Beach. The only Rex Beach Morris had ever heard of 
was the novelist, the author of The Spoilers, The Silver Horde, 
and other sagas of virility and adventure, most of them set in the 
Yukon, that were popular in Morris's childhood. Morris was 
under the impression that the author of these books was dead, 
(Morris was right. According to newspaper accounts, Beach died 
on December 7, 1949. He shot himself in the head with a pistol 
at his home In Sebring, Florida.) At any rate, when the caller 
gave his name, Morris said, "You mean the novelist? My God, 
I thought you were dead!" "Dead! No, I'm feeling fine," the 
caller replied. Morris said he was glad to hear this and asked 
what Beach wanted of him. Beach said that he had been reading 
about Morris's appointment and wished to discuss certain matters. 
He proposed that he and Morris have breakfast together in the 

^5 Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

Carlton dining room the following morning. Morris, who knew 
that it is not good practice for a reformer to meet strangers 
particularly novelists one believes to be dead in hotel dining 
rooms, dodged the invitation with the explanation that he 
planned to breakfast alone in his room while he went over 
some papers. He suggested that Beach call his secretary at the 
Department of Justice and make an appointment for a meeting 
there. He gave the affair little further thought that evening. 

The following morning, Morris had breakfast In his room, as 
he had planned. When he walked out of the Carlton, intending 
to take a cab to his office, he was approached by a man who 
introduced himself as the caller of the evening before. "He was 
standing In the Carlton driveway/' Morris says, "beside a Cadillac 
that looked to me as If It had thirty-two cylinders and was half a 
block long." Morris found the whole thing so bewildering that 
he no longer remembers all the details. He remembers Beach as 
a man of about his own age fifty and rather smartly dressed, 
but he has no other impressions of him. Whatever he looked 
like, Beach suggested that Morris ride down to the Department 
of Justice Building with him, and before Morris knew it, he was 
riding along in the big Cadillac, which had a telephone and 
was lavishly supplied with fur robes. The car was driven by a 
uniformed chauffeur. In the back seat were Morris, Beach, and a 
third man, to whom Morris was promptly introduced but whose 
name he no longer recalls, though he says it is in files he has 
since turned over to the Department of Justice. It was the other 
man, rather than Beach, who wished to do business with Morris. 
"I don't remember his name, but I do remember what he looked 
like," Morris says. "He looked like Clark Gable, but not enough 
to be Clark Gable I'm sure of that. He had a fortune in dia 
monds on him, all set in onyx and all in Shriners* emblems 
an onyx-and-diamond Shriners' ring, an onyx-and-diamond Shrin- 
ers" tie clasp, onyx-and-diamond Shriners' cuff links. And he 
was smoking a cigar so long it would have singed the chauffeur's 
neck If there hadn't been a glass partition in the car. I'd only 
ridden a few blocks before I recovered my senses and realized I 
had no business being there, but he did a lot of talking in the 
time he had/' Morris must have made it apparent that he was 


unaware of the Shrlner's reputation, for the latter explained that 
such ignorance was evidence of his lack of preparation for the 
difficult job he was undertaking. The Shriner told Morris he was 
known throughout the country as one of the great private eyes 
of the age. "He told me there was one sure way to make a go of 
the investigation/' Morris says. "He said that the minute I an 
nounced I was considering making him my chief investigator, I'd 
get co-operation from all sides. He said that he'd investigated 
Republicans for Democrats and Democrats for Republicans and 
that he'd be delighted to investigate both of them for me." Morris 
feigned interest for a moment and asked the man for his card, 
which was produced. At the next traffic light, Morris requested 
that the chauffeur let him out. When he got to the Department 
of Justice, he turned the card over to an investigator and asked 
for an immediate report. "His record was about what I figured/' 
he says. "I don't have it any more and don't remember all of 
it, but I do remember that his last job was as lobbyist for slot- 
machine makers." Morris never heard from the Shriner again, but 
he is still curious about him and about Rex Beach. 

Morris was fully conscious, during his stay in the Justice 
Building, that most of Washington regarded the very fact of his 
presence there as proof that his investigation would be a failure 
probably an intentional one. He says he was not particularly 
bothered by this, for he wanted some time to think the problem 
through and he felt that his spacious office in Justice was as good 
a place as any to do his thinking. He might even have remained 
in it if he had not been strongly urged to get out by three 
Washington correspondents who had previously worked in New 
York and known him there. He had them to lunch in his room 
at the Carlton one day, and they told him that every hour he 
spent in Justice, cerebrating or doing anything else, made it less 
likely that he would be taken seriously when he was ready to 
investigate. He decided to take this problem as well as some 
others that had been accumulating in his mind up with the 
President, and he put in a bid for an appointment at the White 
House. Meanwhile, he kept busy laying his plans and trying to 
assemble a staff. It was his view that he could not, in nine months 
or ninety, look into the financial affairs of all the 2,500,000 gov- 

gj Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

ernment employees. He felt that about all he could do was study 
the topmost layers of the great bureaucratic onion, and that 
these would give him, and the country, a pretty good idea of the 
condition of the many layers beneath. To get the information he 
wanted, he needed the power of subpoena, and also financial 
statements from all high-ranking government employees. It was 
reported later that the questionnaire Morris prepared and the 
Justice Department refused to distribute was an afterthought 
and that he looked upon it as an alternative to the powers of 
subpoena Congress had refused him. He himself says that he 
decided on a questionnaire shortly after he took on the assign 
ment and that he saw it as a necessary auxiliary to any other 
tools of investigation he might use. It was also reported that the 
questionnaire was modeled on the one circulated last year among 
members of the New York City police force. Morris denies this, 
too. When he drew it up with considerable help, in the later 
stages, from members of his staff he had, he says, nothing in 
mind but gathering the information needed for the job in hand, 
and the thought that its mere circulation might be preventive 
medicine for any contemplated waywardness. Although it is a 
formidable document sixteen pages long and calls for several 
hundred items of information, Morris says it is actually less de 
tailed than the one the New York police were required to fill 
out. For example, where Morris asked the recipient to total his 
expenditures in each of the preceding five years, the police ques 
tionnaire required annual expenditures to be broken down into 
several categories rent, medical expenses, liquor, entertainment, 
and so on. 

On February 11, Morris discussed the questionnaire with the 
President, whose authority he would need in compelling people 
to answer, but in the preparatory stages he never discussed it 
with the Attorney General or with any other person outside his 
own office except his father-in-law, Judge Hand, a man who is 
most solicitous for the rights of the individual and who could 
see nothing more objectionable in it than in the many invasions 
of privacy to which all citizens are liable among them, notably, 
the filing of income-tax returns. The only opinion Morris has 
ever cited in defense of the questionnaire is one expressed in 


the recently published Mr. President, in which Truman is quoted 
as saying, "I think that every public official who gets more than 
ten thousand dollars a year ought to show exactly what his out 
side income is, if he has any. That should include District 
Attorneys, Senators, and Congressmen and everyone in the Fed 
eral service. I don't see any reason why that shouldn't be done. 
If a fellow is honest, he doesn't care/' Morris might, if he had 
wished, have cited a more eloquent and closely reasoned defense 
of the principle on which the questionnaire rested a memoran 
dum by Franklin D. Roosevelt on the removal of Sheriff 
Thomas M. Farley of the County of New York, dated Feb 
ruary 24, 1933, in which the late President, who was at that 
time Governor of New York, said: 

The stewardship of public officers is a serious and sacred trust. . . . 
Their personal possessions are invested with a public importance in 
the event that their stewardship is questioned. One of their deep 
obligations is to recognize this, not reluctantly or with resistance, but 
freely. It is in the true spirit of a public trust to give, when personally 
called upon, public proof of the nature, source, and extent of their 
financial affairs. 

It is true that this is not always pleasant. Public service makes many 
exacting demands. . . . The State must expect compliance with these 
standards, because if popular government is to continue to exist it 
must in such matters hold its stewards to a stern and uncompromising 
rectitude. It must be a just but a jealous master. 

Toward the end of Morris's first week on the job, Matthew 
Connelly, who arranges appointments for the President, told 
him that an interview had been scheduled for the following 
Monday, February 11, in Blair House, at eight o'clock in the 
evening. Morris prepared for this as if he were a schoolboy about 
to receive a Presidential 'citation for an essay on the conservation 
of wildlife. "I got my shoes shined, my pants pressed, and my 
hair cut," he says, "and I made sure I didn't get there at seven- 
fifty-nine or eight-one but at eight o'clock on the button." A 
servant met him at the front door and ushered him into the 
small study that the President used for much of his evening work 
while the White House was being renovated. The President was 
alone in the study. He greeted Morris warmly, and Morris started 

gy Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

the conversation off by saying how much he had enjoyed meeting 
the President's daughter on a recent occasion in New York. This 
pleased the President, and he said that the reason Margaret was 
such a good girl was that her mother was a good woman; he 
said it was generally true In his experience that children were 
no better or worse than their mothers. Morris took a chair near 
the President's desk, which was piled high with papers. The 
President said he had brought them over from his White House 
office and expected to go through them that evening; most of 
them, he explained, were reports on Korea and other parts of 
the world beset by troubles larger than boodle and graft. Among 
them, however, the President went on, was a report dealing with 
exactly those Issues, which he thought Morris ought to see, and 
he began riffling through the papers to find it. It proved elusive, 
and Morris suggested that the hunt be abandoned. He said that 
the time they had together would be of most benefit to him if 
he could talk freely for a few minutes. If, at a later date, the 
President found the report, Morris could read it In his own 
office. The President said that sounded sensible, and leaned back 
while Morris talked. "I talked fast/' Morris says. "I told him 
first off that I thought I'd better stick to the top levels and not 
get snarled up with petty graft down below. He agreed. I told 
him that when I said top levels, I meant exactly that, and that I 
felt he shouldn't be satisfied with any Investigation that didn't go 
right Into his office. I told him I planned to look Into all the 
affairs of Harry Vaughan and everyone else In the White House. 
The President said he'd be delighted if I'd give everyone there 
a thorough going over. I told him about the questionnaire. He 
said he thought it was a fine idea and that he'd always been 
for something of that sort I told him that in my opinion what 
the federal government needed was not just a one-shot investiga 
tion but the establishment of a permanent nonpartisan com 
mission an agency like the Department of Investigation In New 
York City to keep a running account of everything that goes 
on. He slapped his knee and said that was a wonderful idea. 
He asked me to draw him up a memorandum on It, which I 
later did. I told him I wanted to get out of McGrath's office. I 
said I'd need 20,000 square feet of floor space somebody or 


other gave me that figure and an appropriation of my own. 
He said that finding the space might be rough but that he'd see 
to it I got it. Finally, I told him that I wanted an executive 
order authorizing me to go ahead and directing every agency to 
give me top priority for the things I was after. I said I didn't 
want an 'administrative memorandum' but an 'executive order/ 
I knew they were the same thing, but the public doesn't know 
it, and 'executive order' would be more impressive. And I said 
I wanted him to use 'top priority/ or 'highest priority/ because 
that would show the country and the government that he and 
I meant business. And I said I wanted him to ask Congress to 
give me the power of subpoena right away. He said he'd take 
care of all these things, and he did/' 

Morris stayed at Blair House for an hour and a half, dis 
cussing, at the President's request, a good many things besides 
the ones he had placed on the agenda. He left in a state of 
exhilaration. "I'd always liked the President and thought of him 
as a man who'd risen above himself," Morris says. "But I'd 
never respected him as much as I did that night. It was the high 
point of the whole two months. I could see that McGrath was 
counting on a whitewash, and I hadn't found anyone else who 
was panting to help us, but I'd felt all along that it was the 
attitude of the President that counted, and that night I was 
sure he was with me." On February 14, the White House re 
leased a statement, in which the President said: 

I have had a good conference with Mr. Newbold Morris about his 
plans for carrying out his job as Special Assistant to the Attorney 

I am directing all departments and agencies of the government to 
cooperate fully with Mr. Morris . . . and to give him any information 
and assistance he may require and to give the highest priority to any 
requests made by him. Adequate funds will be provided for the ac 
tivities of Mr. Morris and his staff, and they will be given separate 
office space outside the Department of Justice. 

I intend to see to it that Mr. Morris has access to all information 
he needs that is in possession of the Executive branch. . . . How 
ever, in many cases where government employees have been 
subject to outside influence, the most essential evidence is not in 

jor Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

government hands. . . . Accordingly, 1 am going to ask the Congress 

to give Mr. Morris the subpoena powers necessary to the proper per 
formance of his duties. . . 

Mr. Morris will have my full support, and I intend to follow the prog 
ress of his work very closely. I hope that he will also have the full sup 
port of the Congress and the public. 

While arrangements were being made mainly by Carl Blais- 
deli, a Defense Department expert on office logistics who was on 
loan to Morris to move Morris into the downtown building 
that formerly housed the Washington Post, Morris necessarily 
continued to put in a good deal of time at Justice. The whole 
experience, in Justice and only to a slightly lesser extent later 
in the Post building, where Morris was physically removed from 
McGrath's agency but still a part of it, remains a zany memory. 
No display of impatience on his part could stop the young men 
from wandering in with their irrelevant reports. After he said 
he was more interested in complaints than reports, he kept on 
getting reports, but he got complaints, too a mountain of them. 
The first one he read came from a farmer somewhere in the 
rutabaga country who was outraged because his mortgage was 
about to be foreclosed; Morris was even provided with a copy of 
the man's deed. In his first few weeks on the job, the only half 
way pertinent complaint he was given came from a girl who 
rushed up to him in Union Station one day and said she was 
employed by the Justice Department (as part of her dossier, she 
carried a letter from Senator Pat McCarran asking that she be 
appointed) but never was given any work to do. She couldn't 
stand inactivity and thought Morris might be able to release her 
from it. Morris got the impression that inactivity was widespread 
in the department, though he received no other complaints about 
it. Whenever McGrath, who was never less than amiable in those 
days, was in Washington, he seldom missed an opportunity to 
invite Morris to prolonged lunches at the 1925 Club. After ac 
cepting a few times, Morris began to plead previous engagements. 
He also commenced to wonder how the department managed 
to get any of its cases tried. "I found out," he says. "Every 
division has a few Harvard Law Review types really first-class 
lawyers working like dogs, but there are an awful lot of people 


who make sure the air conditioning is right and now and then 
move a report from one office to another." He found no lack 
of legal shrewdness in the department. For example, in drawing 
up the formal recommendation to Congress that he be given the 
power of subpoena, the department went beyond the President's 
request and asked that Morris be given the power to confer im 
munity upon co-operative witnesses. Morris had not asked for 
this power and did not particularly want it. He realized that if 
he received everything the President had asked for, it would be 
an almost unbelievable grant of power. To ask for the right to 
confer immunity was, he thought, to go one step too far, and he 
anticipated that this request would alienate many Congressmen. 
In his present suspicious frame of mind, he thinks the Justice 
Department may have anticipated the same thing. Nevertheless, 
the request for immunity power was made, and Morris's fears 
were realized. (Hearing of the request, Senator Karl Mundt, of 
South Dakota, said, "It is difficult to see how Hitler himself 
could have cloaked his associates with more power to protect 
friends and to punish enemies.") If in some respects the depart 
ment was eager to broaden the scope of Morris's powers, it 
seemed to wish them narrowed down in others. The President's 
order had been clear about Morris's right to have his own as 
sistants, and the recommendation to Congress as originally 
drafted provided that the power of subpoena be granted to not 
more than three members of Morris's staff. Somewhere along 
the line, the wording was changed so that the power was re 
quested for not more than three Assistant Attorneys General 
in other words, three members of McGrath's staff. Morris hap 
pened to catch this change, and he protested to the President's 
counsel, Charles Murphy, who saw to it that the original wording 
was restored. Morris never got the power of subpoena or of 
granting immunity. 

Morris was having difficulty persuading people to join his 
staff, and this fact was reported in, and often exaggerated by, 
the newspapers, a circumstance that, of course, increased the 
difficulty. (In one case, a man Morris had not even approached 
announced his refusal to join him.) Nevertheless, Morris put 
together the rudiments of a first-class staff. His chief assistant was 

xc?3 Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

a tall, loosely built man with a melancholy face named Morton 
Baum a Republican who had served with Morris on the Board 
of Aldermen and had later joined the La Guardia administration 
as a special tax counsel. Morris's chief counsel, who was to func 
tion as chief investigator, was Samuel Becker; he had been 
general counsel to Philip La Follette, the former governor of 
Wisconsin, and from 1935 to 1937 had conducted the Federal 
Communications Commission's investigation of the telephone in 
dustry. Baum and Becker, like Morris himself, interrupted 
private practices in New York for the investigation. Once the 
three of them were together, they started building an organiza 
tion. Almost immediately, they ran into that great misery of 
government administrators, the security check. They were told 
that they couldn't put anyone on the payroll until the F.B.L 
had made a thorough investigation of his background, character, 
reputation, and reading tastes. This rigorous survey could take 
months. Morris and Baum called on A. Devitt Vanech, the 
Deputy Attorney General, and proposed that instead of actually 
putting people on the payroll, they hire them on a per-diem 
basis as "consultants." Vanech was none too sure about the 
propriety of this and said he would take it up with McGrath. 
McGrath was none too sure about it either, but finally, throwing 
caution to the winds, he approved the arrangement. Getting 
people to accept on that not so attractive basis, however, pre 
sented one more difficulty, and even that wasn't all. "One day, 
we thought we had a windfall," Baum said recently. "We heard 
that the Federal Trade Commission was going to let twelve 
excellent men go, because it didn't have the money to keep them. 
But we couldn't lay our hands on them. The F.B.I, thought they 
ought to be checked, even though they'd been on the F.T.C. pay 
roll for quite a while. We suggested that to get around this they 
simply be kept on the F.T.C. payroll while we requisitioned 
their services and reimbursed the F.T.C. from our own funds. It 
never did work out, though I think we were right on the verge of 
getting them* when McGrath got us." 

In the dispute that ultimately arose between Morris and the 
Attorney General, the most widely publicized of Morris's ad 
ventures in Washington his appearances before the Senate 


Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations played no part at 
all. On March 11 and 12, Morris testified before the committee, 
which had for some time been looking into the sale of surplus 
government tankers. It wanted to see what light Morris could 
throw on the operations of a group, headed by a former Con 
gressman named Joseph E. Casey, that was said to have made a 
profit of $3,250,000 on an investment of $101,000 in surplus 
tankers. Morris's law firm had represented two of the tanker 
firms that figured in the huggermugger operations of the Casey 
group (the group, incidentally, had included Fleet Admiral 
William F. Halsey, Retired, and the late Secretary of State 
Edward R. Stettinius, Jr.), and Morris himself was the unpaid 
president of the China International Foundation, which dis 
bursed certain tanker profits in the form of scholarships to 
Chinese students whose education in their homeland had been 
disrupted in consequence of their Nationalist sympathies. It 
was brought out that some of these profits had been made by 
the delivery, in vessels owned by the United Tanker Corporation, 
which was represented by Morris's firm and whose stock was 
owned by the Foundation, of four shipments of oil to the 
Chinese mainland in 1949 and 1950. As far as representing the 
tanker firms was concerned, Morris argued before the com 
mittee that lawyers are not responsible for any corporation they 
represent unless they are officers of the corporation; Lovejoy, 
Morris, Wasson & Huppuch, he said, had not counseled any il 
legal actions on the part of the corporations. He was aware, he 
said, that some of United's ships had delivered oil to Communist 
China (the four trips to the Chinese mainland were part of a 
total of more than two hundred trips United's tankers had made 
throughout the world during the two years in question), but he 
was also aware that the oil deliveries, all of which took place 
before the Korean war, had been sanctioned by the State De 
partment and had been discontinued promptly when the Eco 
nomic Cooperation Administration urged that this be done. 
Morris said that he himself had not received a dollar from the 
operations of any of the tankers, but he did admit that his share 
of the legal fees for representing the owners was probably in 
the neighborhood of $30,000. 

joj Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

A fair number of people In Washington felt that Morris's role 
in all this would prove a continuing source of embarrassment to 
his Investigation. A larger number, while not necessarily holding 
this opinion, felt that Morris's petulant response to some of the 
questioning was censurable, despite the fact that the provocation 
had been great. Senator McCarthy talked about Morris's reaping 
profits "soaked In American blood." Morris accused McCarthy of 
subjecting him to an ordeal similar to the one Joseph Cardinal 
Mindszenty endured at the hands of Hungarian Communists. 
In the opinion of almost everyone In Washington, both McCarthy 
and Morris overstated their cases. None of this, however, bore on 
the conflict between Morris and McGrath, for McGrath, the 
President, and just about everyone else In the administration 
shared Morris's view that the affair of the tankers in no way 
disqualified him for the task at hand. Many members of the 
administration were inclined to think better of Morris because 
of his defiance of Senator McCarthy. In any event, he felt en 
couraged to stay on in Washington. 

The tanker question, the difficulties of getting a staff together, 
the problem of operating without the power of subpoena, and 
most of Morris's other troubles seemed outwardly, anyway to 
have been reasonably well surmounted by the week of March 3 1, 
the week that began with McGrath's statement that he was sorry 
he'd ever hired Morris and ended with Morris's firing and 
McGrath's resignation. From around the middle of March on, 
things had appeared to be going smoothly, on the whole. A 
staff of about fifty had been put together and preparations were 
being made to double it, complaints were being received In fair 
volume, and the staff investigators were getting their work well 
organized. Morris had had another highly satisfactory interview 
with the President. It had taken place shortly after Morris ap 
peared on a television program called "Meet the Press," in the 
course of which he said some characteristically severe things 
about General Vaughan and Ambassador William O'Dwyer. The 
President wanted Morris to know that he bore Morris no resent 
ment for these judgments and was still behind him. About 
General Vaughan he made what seemed to Morris an odd but 
touching point. The President directed Morris's attention to a 


small piece of sculpture on the mantelpiece. "Do you know who 
gave me that?" the President said, quickly answering his own 
question. "Harry Vaughan's daughter did. She made it, and she's 
just graduating from art school. I have a daughter, too, you 
know, and Harry Vaughan is my friend. You say what you want 
about him; that's what you're here for, but Harry Vaughan is 
still my friend." When Morris left, he received still another 
assurance that the President, as President, was behind him. 

A grand jury was to be set up on Monday, April 7, and al 
though Morris did not expect to be in a position to seek any 
indictments by then, he was hopeful that the jury could be kept 
sitting until something good broke. He planned to use it the 
way Miles McDonald, the District Attorney in Brooklyn, used 
the grand jury whose sessions resulted in the exposure of Harry 
Gross's bookmaking ring that is, not chivvying witnesses and 
trying to get them to admit specific crimes but leading them 
along more or less at random in the expectation that they would 
sooner or later talk themselves into trouble. Meanwhile, the 
questionnaire had been printed and Morris was planning to 
distribute it. There was a rather nightmarish touch in connec 
tion with his efforts to do so. It turned out that nowhere in 
the government is there any file or index that tells who occupies 
what job. The Budget Bureau has a complete list, by grade and 
title, of all the jobs in all the agencies, but neither it nor any 
other body has a list of the people who fill the positions. It 
might seem reasonable to suppose that there are officials in every 
division of the government (when the Hoover Commission 
counted up a few years ago, it found a total of 1,816 "com 
ponent parts") who know who their own employees are, but no 
one knows or can easily find out who anyone else's employees 
are. Thus, when Morris, with the aid of Baum, studied govern 
ment charts and job descriptions to determine which employees 
should get the questionnaires, he found he had no way of taking 
the next step mailing them out to the jobholders. He and 
Baum decided they would have to deliver the questionnaires to 
the heads of the various agencies and ask them to fit the names to 
the jobs before passing them along. In Justice, to which Morris, 
aided by a platoon of porters, delivered the first bundles by 

joy Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

hand, It was maintained for a while that not even in the depart 
ment itself was there any way of finding out the names of the 
596 employees who were to receive the documents. But Morris 
and Becker protested, and finally a list was found. The copies 
of the questionnaire, though, remained in McGrath's office until, 
presumably, the garbage men got them. 

Morris is now inclined to the view that the investigation never 
had any chance of succeeding. He feels that the smooth sailing 
of the penultimate weeks was a mere illusion. This illusion, he 
thinks, rested on the illusion on the part of McGrath and others 
that Morris would not do a really serious job of investigation. 
"They let us alone for a while because they thought we were 
going to let them alone/' he says. He believes it probable that 
if he had started with some other department, he would have 
encountered the same kind of resistance. The only administra 
tion leader besides McGrath with whom Morris discussed the 
questionnaire at any length was John Snyder, the Secretary of 
the Treasury. Snyder said he felt that its distribution would 
demoralize his department. Morris pointed out that the public 
had the impression that the Treasury Department, which was 
next in line after Justice, was already in an advanced state of 
demoralization. Snyder said he thought the public had the wrong 
impression. It was clear that he was against the plan and would 
be a reluctant collaborator. Although it was in the course of 
testifying about the questionnaire before the Chelf Subcommittee 
of the House Judiciary Committee that McGrath indignantly 
said he was out of sympathy with Morris's program an erup 
tion that led directly to the departure of both men what 
actually brought matters to a head, in the opinion of Morris and 
his associates, was a far less controversial question. In the ab 
sence of any statement by McGrath, there can, of course, be 
nothing but speculation as to the real basis of his conduct during 
the week of March 31, but Morris and most of those who were 
associated with him argue that it was McGrath's resistance to 
disclosing any information about the conduct of his own office 
that caused the blowup. Just as Morris was on the point of 
getting to work on McGrath's office that is, of accepting the 
invitation issued by McGrath in the White House on February i 


McGrath's attitude began to change. An order came through 
stating that there were to be no more additions to Morris's staff 
without the Attorney General's approval. When Morris tried to 
get this order set aside, he was unable to find McGrath any 
where. McGrath was in Rhode Island McGrath was out to 
lunch McGrath hadn't arrived in the office yet McGrath had 
left early McGrath was in conference McGrath was indisposed. 
"I finally did see him on March 25th/' Morris says, "and he 
agreed to junk this order and to do most of the other things I 
asked, but I had a kind of sense that we were heading into the 
biggest crisis yet, even while outwardly the investigation ap 
peared to be building up steam in a hurry. I felt there was real 
trouble ahead, though I can't say I had any premonition of the 
way it was all going to work out. The truth is I never doubted 
that we would succeed. I thought the President wanted us to 
succeed and that his support was all we needed." 

On March 26, Morris and Becker decided that the time had 
come to force McGrath to put up or shut up. An appointment 
was made for Becker to call on McGrath that afternoon and 
make arrangements for beginning the investigation of the Attor 
ney General's office. The appointment was set for half past three. 
Becker arrived then and was alone with McGrath for forty-five 
minutes. In a memorandum on the interview that Becker pre 
pared for Morris, he wrote that he started out by "telling [Mc 
Grath] that we had no reason to doubt that the affairs of the 
Department were properly handled." This was not quite as dis 
ingenuous a remark as it may appear to be, Morris and Becker 
say, for it was understood that they were talking not of efficient 
and intelligent management but of the financial honesty of 
McGrath and his immediate subordinates, which, they say, they 
still have no reason to question. "I said," Becker continued in 
his report, "that my guess was that if any improprieties or ir 
regularities turned up, they would probably be on the same 
administrative level as in the Treasury. Under such circum 
stances, it was to the interest of the Department to make the 
facts known promptly, so that any rumors or charges could be 
set to rest." McGrath seemed to be in agreement with all this 
and, indeed, with most of the things Becker said. The copies of 

jog Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

the questionnaire still had not been distributed, and when 
Becker brought this up, McGrath assured him they would go 
out before the end of the day. Becker made certain proposals 
for speeding up the process of getting the people Morris wanted 
to hire cleared by the F.B.I, and put on the federal payroll. 
McGrath said he thought these proposals reasonable, and asked 
that he be supplied with a list of those Morris wanted most 
urgently to employ, so that he could attend to the speed-up 
himself. On all matters of organization, McGrath was, on the 
evidence of Becker's memorandum, more co-operative on March 
26 than he had been at any time since early February. 

At last, Becker arrived at the question that he expected 
trouble about. "I suggested/* he wrote in his memorandum, 
"that we would want promptly to commence our regular, routine 
examination of the files in accordance with the procedure that 
is customary and usual in investigations of this nature, similar 
to public investigations in which I had been engaged and very 
much like the investigations that the Anti-Trust Division [in 
the Department of Justice] now makes/* Becker went on to 
explain that the simplest procedure, in his view, was to start at 
the very top of the heap and work down. McGrath asked Becker 
exactly what records he wished to have, and Becker said he 
wanted all the records. He mentioned specifically "correspond 
ence, diaries, appointment books, records of telephone calls/* 
It has lately been reported in the press that when Becker asked 
for these, McGrath grew angry and shouted his refusal. Becker, 
whose laconic memorandum does not deal with McGrath's atti 
tude, says that this was not at all the case. He says that McGrath 
was calm and extremely courteous throughout the interview, 
that he recognized Becker's role as Morris's emissary Morris had 
sent Becker to McGrath instead of going himself because he felt 
that Becker was a more adroit and self-controlled interviewer 
and that he did not raise his voice once in the forty-five minutes 
they were together. But when Becker explained in detail what 
he was after, McGrath, according to the memorandum, "in 
formed me that he would not consent to such examinations and 
would not give access to the files except on a most restricted 
basis; that is to say, if any evidence were furnished suggesting 


any misconduct or impropriety and specific files were called for, 
he would make them available." Becker pointed out that this 
would help very little, since it was in the records themselves that 
he expected to find the evidence McGrath was demanding as a 
prerequisite for turning over the records. McGrath said that that 
was too bad, but he had made his mind up on this point. Further 
more, Becker went on in his memorandum, McGrath "said that 
he would in no case permit examination of his own records. . . . 
I told him that I thought the Presidential directive was in the 
nature of a subpoena to all government departments to make 
available and to give access to all the records of the departments 
or persons in the departments relating to their general work.*' 
McGrath said that he didn't think it covered the things Becker 
was asking for. Becker reminded him that the President had 
authorized Morris to have "all information he needs that is in 
possession of the Executive branch" and that he couldn't see 
how this excluded anything. "I suggested," Becker wrote, "that 
the limitations he imposed were contrary to the executive order 
and it seemed to me that matters of that nature were not open 
to discussion between us or between him and you." McGrath 
said that this might be true but that he intended to discuss it 
himself with the President. McGrath also said that he felt there 
was a certain unfairness about Morris's having singled out the 
Department of Justice for attack. "I told him," Becker wrote, 
"that this was the purest coincidence; it originated [in] his in 
vitation to you at the time of your appointment and the press 
conference which followed." McGrath said he considered it un 
fair nonetheless. With that, the interview ended, and Becker 
returned to his office to write his memorandum, which con 
cluded with the statement that "unless this question [of the 
conflict with McGrath] is answered satisfactorily before the end 
of next week, I see nothing further for us to do." 

That was March 26. Neither Morris nor anyone in his office 
saw McGrath or any of McGrath's assistants after that. On 
Monday, March 31, McGrath testified before the Chelf Subcom 
mittee. He said he was undecided whether to distribute the 
questionnaire and whether to fill out his own copy. Asked if he 
would hire Morris if he had it to do over again, he said he 

in Mr. Morris Goes to Washington 

would not. On Wednesday, April 2, McGrath saw the President 
in the White House for fifteen minutes. It is not yet known what 
was said at that meeting. McGrath saw the President again in 
the afternoon, at the National Airport, and a few snatches of 
conversation were overheard by reporters, but no one is sure 
exactly what was under discussion. The following morning, Mc 
Grath fired Morris. At a few minutes after four that afternoon, 
the President, in his press conference, announced that McGrath 
had resigned and had been succeeded by Federal Judge James P. 
McGranery. At the conference, the President was asked a number 
of questions about Morris's dismissal, but he contributed very 
little information in his replies. These are some of the exchanges 
that bore on the mystery: 

QUESTION: Did Mr. McGrath fire Moms with your knowledge 
and approval? 

ANSWER: * The President said he saw it in the paper. 

Q.: I take it, Mr. President, that you didn't know about it 
before McGrath 

A.: The President said it was under discussion but that he was 
not consulted when it was done. 

<>.: Were you consulted before it was done? 

A.: The President said he was talked to about it but that he 
made no suggestion about it. 

Q.: Why was Mr. Morris fired? Do you think his dismissal was 

A.: The President said he couldn't answer the question. 

Q.: Do you intend to reinstate Mr. Morris? 

A.: The President said he couldn't answer the question. He 
said that he had a new Attorney General. 

Q.: I wonder what is your opinion of the celebrated ques 
tionnaire of Mr. Morris? 

A.: The President said he had never seen one so he couldn't 
answer a question like that. 

Q.: Mr. President, could I ask whether you have any reason to 
feel dissatisfied with Mr. Morris's work? 

A.: The President said he couldn't answer the question. 

* President Truman did not authorize direct quotation. 


Q. (by Mrs. Elisabeth May Craig, a correspondent for a 
number of papers in Maine): Mr. President, I'm, I'm . . . 

A.: The President observed that Mrs. Craig was kind of tangled 
up, wasn't she? 

Q.: Well, sir, I am, because we understood that Mr. Morris 
was your man to conduct [the investigation] and now he is fired 
and you don't tell us whether it is in your opinion a justified 
dismissal. It leaves Mr. Morris under a cloud. 

A.: The President said Morris was hired by the Attorney Gen 
eral, brought down by the Attorney General, and the Attorney 
General fired him. 

Q.: And we were wrong in thinking he was your man? 

A.: The President said he wasn't his man. He said he never 

The next morning, Morris went down to the Washington Post 
building, gathered up a few belongings, and taxied to Union 
Station with a friend a New York journalist who now and then 
looks in on Washington. They boarded the Morning Congres 
sional and, over drinks in a compartment, rehashed the whole 

When Morris reached Pennsylvania Station, it looked fine to 

The Kept Witnesses 


ON FEBRUARY 3, 1955* a press conference was called at the Hotel 
Biltmore in New York City for the purpose of providing a 
young man named Harvey Matusow with an opportunity to 
make a public confession of fraud and perjury. Along with the 
confession and necessary as a foundation for it went some 
items of biography. 

In 1947, Matusow, who was then twenty, joined the Com 
munist party. He claims to have taken this step as a dedicated 
revolutionist. Within a year or two, he said, he became dis 
illusioned and penitent. The way of transgressors is hard. 
Matusow did not leave the party he no longer believed in. 
Instead, he stayed on as a voluntary agent of the Federal Bureau 
of Investigation. In 1951, he abandoned this masquerade and in 
1952 appeared as a witness for the prosecution in the trial, in 
federal court, of thirteen leaders of the Communist party charged 
with conspiracy under the Smith Act. 

Matusow's performance under oath some seven hundred pages 
in the trial record pleased the government attorneys, who won 
their case, and gained him an honored position as a kept, or 
professional, witness. That is to say, he made his living and a 
very good one, he now maintains, for a man of his age and 
station by being sworn and saying what those who paid him 
wished to have him say. Between 1951 and 1954, his services 
were sought, and easily obtained, by the United States Depart 
ment of Justice, the Subversive Activities Control Board, the 
Permanent Investigations Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary 



Committee, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 
the Ohio Committee on Un-American Activities, and the New 
York. City Board of Education. He claims to have testified in 
twenty-five trials, deportation proceedings, and the like, and to 
have made 180 identifications of Communists, or of persons he 
chose to call Communists, for the various agencies that em 
ployed him. He found a good deal of additional employment. 
He hired out as a speaker in Congressional campaigns, In which, 
for a fee, he would damage this candidate or that one with 
intimations of subversion. He composed memoirs and revelations 
for the Hearst newspapers, lectured on the American Legion 
circuit, and now and then exploited himself and his past as a 
night-club entertainer and radio disc jockey. 

In his New York press conference and in subsequent testimony 
before a federal grand jury and two committees of Congress, 
Matusow repudiated his career as a professional witness. He ex 
plained that he had walked down a city street one day and had 
been deeply moved by an eloquent call to piety and virtue 
which he found inscribed on a sign outside a synagogue. He had 
not been living the good life. The testimony he had given was 
riddled with lies. In case after case, he told the assembled re 
porters, he had fabricated evidence, sometimes on his own initia 
tive, sometimes at the Instigation of government lawyers. 

He was now filing affidavits in support of requests for new 
trials for many of those he had helped convict. Such was his 
remorse that he was willing, he said, to risk the penalties of 
perjury to undo the damage he had done. 

This, at any rate, is Matusow's story. And it appears to have 
something in common with the stories of at least two other 
people. Mrs. Marie Natvig and Lowell Watson, government 
witnesses in a recent proceeding before the Federal Communica 
tions Commission, have given the lie to their testimony. Both 
swore before the F.C.C. that they had known as a Communist 
one Edward Lamb, an Erie, Pennsylvania, newspaper publisher 
whose right as a television licensee had been called into question. 
Mrs. Natvig, a gaudy triple divorcee from Miami Beach, now 
says she lied not only about Lamb's Communist record but about 
her own. She had invented a Communist past for herself in 

jj5 The Kept Witnesses 

order to Identify others as Communists. Watson, a Kansas farmer 
who, like Matusow, had worked often for the Justice Department, 
disowned only his avouchments in the Lamb case. 

The recantations necessarily leave many matters in doubt. It 
is the misfortune of skillful dissemblers that their fellows can 
never give full faith or credit to anything they say. The regenera 
tion of Matusow, Mrs. Natvig, and Watson may be causing un 
bounded joy in heaven, but here it must be received with the 
cool skepticism that should have greeted their sworn testimony. 
"A liar is always lavish of oaths," Pierre Comeille wrote three 
hundred years ago in Le Menteur, one of the great definitive 
works on the subject. The courts, the committees, the com 
missions, and the security panels before which Matusow and 
Mrs. Natvig were lavish of oaths will be a long time working 
over the tangled skein of evidence put in the record by this 
bedeviled youth and this odd woman. 

And certainly in Matusow's case those who preside will, if they 
are possessed of the thoughtfulness the task requires, be haunted 
by the possibility that he has not really recovered his amateur 
standing that he is, in point of fact, as much a professional as 
ever. Now he has written a book about his experiences. His 
press conference was called by the publishers of the book, the 
firm of Cameron 8c Kahn. There was a distinctly promotional air 
about the whole enterprise, and there was a distinctly Stalinist 
air about it, too. Cameron 8c Kahn is a house that up to now 
has specialized in Communist literature. In any case, Matusow, 
whether genuinely purified or merely reverting to form, is once 
again capitalizing on the confidences of former associates; now 
he is putting the finger not on Communists but on anti-Com 
munists on Senator Joseph McCarthy, on Roy M. Cohn, on all 
his collaborators of the last four or five years. Is he once again 
on somebody's payroll? It is an uncharitable thought but an 
inescapable one. 

"This is a good racket, being a professional witness," Matusow 
told the reporters when Cameron & Kahn broke out the Scotch 
at the Biltmore. Immediately the conference was over, he hurried 
to the Columbia Broadcasting Company studios for a telecast. 

The Department of Justice announced, soon after Matusow's 


confession, that it would be among the agencies reviewing and 
re-evaluating the recanted testimony. The anonymous spokesmen 
for the Attorney General were a bit grudging and condescending 
about it. They pointed out that Matusow had given only "cor 
roborative" testimony, as though this were some unimportant 
species of testimony, hardly worth the bother of looking into. 
(Actually, there is no special category of evidence known as 
"corroborative." It merely means, in this instance, that Matusow 
testified to facts also testified to by one or more other witnesses. 
Not only can two witnesses be wrong, but there are circum 
stances in which the withdrawal of one witness's testimony 
destroys the legal value of another's.) But after Matusow ap 
peared before the grand jury, and after Mrs. Natvig and Watson 
revealed their fabrications, the Department of Justice promised 
a full investigation. Bearing the honorable name it does, it could 
hardly do less. Men are in prison today in part because of 
evidence drawn from a confessed perjurer by department lawyers. 

Neither the Department of Justice nor any other agency of 
government, however, has given any indication that the Matusow 
incident has led it to reconsider the moral, juridical, and political 
effects of the whole practice of retaining professional witnesses. 
On the contrary, it would appear that the government's prin 
cipal concern at this stage is to prevent Matusow's latest set of 
confessions from discrediting the testimony of its other pro 
fessionals. A federal judge has jailed him on the ground that 
his recantation is false and contemptuous and the department 
has indicted Mrs. Natvig, not for the perjury she admits, but 
for having lied to its lawyers. 

In a sense, of course, the government is profoundly right in 
wishing to protect its employees. One embezzler does not make 
thieves of all bankers. One spy in the State Department does 
not prove all diplomats disloyal. One perjurious witness for the 
government does not make liars of all the rest. Yet there is a 
difference. Matusow was asserting not the unverifiable but the 
self-evident when he said that it had been "a good racket, being 
a professional witness/' As rackets must be judged, it was a good 
one for him, certainly; and, since Matusow's talents are unusual 
but not unexampled, it may, at this moment, be equally good 

XI j The Kept Witnesses 

for others. And if It is a good racket for anyone, It is a racket for 
which the government of the United States must bear the heaviest 
responsibility. For it is the government of the United States 
"that august conception/* as Samuel Taylor Coleridge once 
called it that originated this racket and that continues to en 
courage and pay for it. Matusow was in partnership with the 

The government's use of professional witnesses has at least 
this much in common with a racket that information about it 
is exceedingly difficult to come by. The whole affair is veiled in 
secrecy. The government will not talk. It does not, because 
plainly it cannot, plead that the safety of the nation would be 
imperiled if it revealed the number and the identity of those 
whom it hires to testify according to the wishes of its lawyers. It 
does not plead the right to withhold the names on the ground 
that these people are confidential informers; obviously it cannot 
do that in the case of men and women who appear in open 
court. The government gives no reasons for its unwillingness to 
discuss or even to defend this phase of its operations, but it 
evidently holds to the view that it would not be in the public 
interest to make any sort of public accounting in this matter.* 

* On December 20, 1954, I wrote the Attorney General to request facts on 
the use of professional witnesses and the department's "response, if it has 
made one, to critics of the practice." I pointed out that there had been, 
even then, a good deal of public discussion of the question, and I noted that 
it suffered from the lack "of the kind of solid information I imagine the 
Department of Justice could provide." I got no reply until February 10 of 
this year, which was a few days after the Matusow recantation. I then 
received a letter from William F. Tompkins, Assistant Attorney General in 
charge of the new Internal Security Division. Mr. Tompkins merely ac 
knowledged receipt of my letter and enclosed copies of two speeches, one 
by Assistant Attorney General Warren Olney, III, delivered before the 
Michigan Association of Prosecuting Attorneys on July 23, 1954- and one 
by himself, delivered before the Camden County, New Jersey, Bar Associa 
tion on September 28, 1954. Both speeches are addressed to the problem, but 
neither really deals with it. Both assume that the sanction the courts have 
given to paid informers can be extended to professional witnesses. Both 
contain some rather handsome specimens of question-begging. For example, 
Mr Tompkins: "The testimony of these witnesses has been weighed by 
numerous American juries and found to be credible. Of the eighty-four de 
fendants who have been tried thus far for conspiring to violate the Smith 
Act eighty-one have been convicted and only one has been acquitted by a 
jury A more convincing yardstick of the credibility of those witnesses I 


In mid- 1954, though, some enterprising Washington journal 
ists came into possession of a Department of Justice list which 
contained the names and earnings of thirty persons "regularly 
used as witnesses" and of fifty-three "occasionally used" in the 
period, spanning two administrations, between July i, 1952 and 
May 31, 1954. This list has been made public, and the depart 
ment has not to date challenged its authenticity. 

Whether the list was complete is not known. It was specified 
that the eighty-three named were all under contract to the 
Immigration and Naturalization Service of the department. 
There are others in other bureaus of the department and in 
other executive agencies, and there are known to be several 
working for the legislative branch and the state governments. 
American public life on almost every level today is characterized 
by what can only be described as an obsession with problems of 
loyalty and internal security; it is a rare public agency that does 
not have at least one division devoting itself to these problems, 
and it is a downright underprivileged one that does not have 
some judicial or semijudicial apparatus for making the kind of 
distinctions the ruling obsession demands. These apparatuses 
require witnesses. 

At all odds, the Department of Justice had at least eighty- 
three kept witnesses in 1954. It seems wholly reasonable to 
assume that, despite the defection of Harvey Matusow, the num 
ber is not smaller today. More likely than not, it is larger, for 
the new Internal Security Division of the department, which 
came into being on July 9 of last year, has announced that it 
plans greatly to accelerate its work in this field and aspires to 
produce an ever-mounting volume of prosecutions under the 
Smith Act, the Communist Control Act of 1954, and all other 
available statutes. 

Of the eighty-three persons retained by the department in 
1954, all were, by their own admission, former members of the 
Communist party. Some, like Benjamin Gitlow, one of the first 

cannot imagine." Neither speech, provides any solid information. More re 
cently, in testimony before a Senate committee, Tompkins has said: "It 
has become increasingly clear that the current attack against government 
witnesses . . . has its roots in a Communist effort." 

jjp The Kept Witnesses 

American Bolsheviks and once Communist candidate for Vice- 
President, had been true believers; others, like Matthew Cvetic, 
whose exploits as an undercover agent were celebrated in a 
radio serial called "I Was a Communist for the FBI," had been 
quite the opposite but had infiltrated the party at the direction 
of Mr. Hoover's famous agency. A few, like Harvey Matusow, 
had made the transition from revolutionist to coun ten-evolu 
tionist Inside the party. Those who are public servants now 
receive $25 a day plus $9 "In lieu of expenses." These, at least, 
are the sums that have been brought out on cross-examination 
In several trials and hearings. Some witnesses may receive more, 
others less; $34 a day appears to be the prevailing fee. 

By government standards, this is fairly high pay. And il Is high 
in comparison with what some of the kept witnesses made before 
entering government service. Harvey Matusow was earning $35 a 
week in 1951. The job formerly held by Paul Crouch who 
earned $9,675 from the department in two years of witnessing 
was as an airline employee at eighty-five cents an hour. Leonard 
Patterson was a New York taxi driver. Many of the others were 
paid functionaries of the Communist party, which means that 
their pay was low and infrequent. To satisfy the statute under 
which the payments are authorized the General Services and 
Administrative Act of 1949 the people who receive them are 
carried on the books not as kept witnesses but as "expert con 
sultants." But kept witnesses is what in fact they are; such use 
fulness as they may be said to have derives from their ability 
and readiness to identify people as Communists, to describe 
Communist activities for the enlightenment of judges, juries, and 
security panels, and to interpret Communist doctrine in such a 
way as to bring it within the area proscribed by the Smith Act. 

Some critics notably Joseph and Stewart Alsop, who first 
brought the problem of kept witnesses to public attention have 
urged that a distinction be made between those who have been 
paid large sums and those who have been paid small sums. It is 
proper, they point out, to describe a witness such as Manning 
Johnson, who is credited with earnings of 19,096 in a two-year 
period, as a professional. However, some on the department list 
are credited with amounts that can only be considered as pin 


money: $200 or $300 in twenty-six months. Obviously, some sort 
of distinction ought to be made between those who earn enough 
to live on and those who do not. But because of the depart 
ment's refusal to provide information, it is impossible to do this. 
In an act of high magnanimity, the Alsops accepted the boot 
legged list from the department and concluded that there were 
only twelve witnesses "who have earned enough so that one may 
reasonably presume the sums were meaningful to them." Harvey 
Matusow was not one of the twelve, for the Department of 
Justice had him down as a witness "occasionally used" and listed 
his earnings as only $75. It has since developed that the one list 
so far circulated tells only part of the story. Matusow got $75 
from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and $1,407 
from a separate account with the Attorney General's office. 

There are certain ironies connected with the purely pro 
cedural aspects of the department's relations with its paid wit 
nesses. The General Services Act, which provides the legal 
authority for their retention, was passed by the Eighty-first 
Congress very largely because it had the formidable endorse 
ment of the Commission on the Organization of the Executive 
Branch of Government, headed by Herbert Hoover. The Hoover 
Commission had been distressed to learn that certain agencies of 
the federal government very often had to forgo the advice of 
eminent American specialists in such fields as science and educa 
tion because they lacked any means for retaining them on a 
part-time basis. The commission prepared a plan to enable 
certain agencies to draw up and offer contracts retaining spe 
cialists on a per-diem basis. It was accepted with enthusiasm by 
the Congress. 

An additional advantage of the scheme, it was thought, was 
that it made it possible to obtain the services of qualified ad 
visers without the delays and embarrassments caused by the 
protracted rituals of loyalty and security checks. So far, the most 
conspicuous use to which the law has been put is the hiring as 
"expert consultants" of the former Communists and police agents 
who make up the department's corps of professional witnesses. 
And one of the most conspicuous uses to which the professional 
witnesses are put is in establishing by sworn testimony that 

j 2 j The Kept Witnesses 

certain other employees of the government are loyalty and 
security risks. 

Thus, the key figures in the field o loyalty and security 
clearance are men and women who are themselves almost alone 
in the whole teeming structure of federal bureaucracy exempt 
from the need for clearance. More than that, they compose a 
group whose individual members would have almost no chance 
of getting clearance if it were required of them. It reflects not at 
all on their present condition of rectitude and probity to say that 
their pasts reek of subversion and sedition and that a number of 
them are convicted felons. One of the most prominent, for 
example, Is Morris Malkin, formerly a union hoodlum and twice 
convicted for felonious assault. Another Is Paul Crouch, gen 
erally regarded as the professional witness with the most ex 
perience and highest earnings, who was once court-martialed for 
offenses against the Military Code of Justice, sentenced to forty 
years of hard labor on Alcatraz Island, and dishonorably dis 
charged from the Army. Fortunately relieved of any accountabil 
ity for these aspects of their past, they play a crucial role in 
determining who is and who is not of sufficient uprightness to 
work for the United States government. 

And as witnesses in other proceedings, the professionals play 
a crucial role in determining many things. There Is, indeed, 
no end to the number of places where they may turn up in the 
course of their service to the Department of Justice and ap 
parently in fulfillment of their agreement with it. While under 
contract to the department, Matusow was a witness in depart 
mental trials of a number of New York public-school teachers. 
Paul Crouch, the dishonorably discharged buck private, filed 
with Senator McCarthy's Committee on Government Operations 
a bizarre memorandum describing a plot to subvert our entire 
military establishment which he claims to have hatched with the 
late Mikhail Tukhachevsky, Marshal of the Red Army, thirty 
years ago. This bit of delayed Intelligence provided, according 
to Roy M. Cohn, the impetus for the investigation of the Army 
Signal Corps' radar laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey 
a piece of work that uncovered not a single Communist but 
did incalculable harm not only to government research but to 


the government's relationship with the whole scientific com 
munity. Called by Congressmen hostile to the admission to 
statehood of the Territory of Hawaii, Crouch took the oath 
before the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs and 
deposed at length on Communism on the islands. William Gar- 
field Cummings, one of the most ubiquitous of the breed, testified, 
along with Mrs. Natvig and Lowell Watson, before the F.C.C. in 
the Lamb case. In Louisville, Kentucky, an obscure journalist 
was indicted for promoting civil disorder; to the good fortune 
of the state attorney trying the case, there chanced to be on the 
Department of Justice's list a Mrs. Alberta Ahearn, who was 
prepared to say that she knew the defendant as a Communist. 
Manning Johnson and Leonard Patterson, seasoned performers 
on the Smith Act wheel, appeared as witnesses against Dr. Ralph 
Bunche, of the United Nations Secretariat. 

Because the government takes the view that its dealings with its 
professional witnesses are privileged, it is impossible to take the 
true measure of their influence. .But it is clear beyond all dispute 
that one agency, the Department of Justice, is subsidizing testi 
mony not only in many of the cases it is legitimately prosecuting 
as the legal arm of the federal government but in a number of 
other cases, some of them flagrantly political. Even the subsidy 
it provides for witnesses in its -own prosecutions is a problem 
serious enough to warrant investigation and examination. 

It is a novel arrangement, this hiring of people to take a 
solemn oath and testify favorably to ihe government. American 
history offers no precedent for it. The use of paid informers 
by police departments :and federal agencies such as Internal 
Revenue is neither precedent nor .true parallel. The paid in 
former's job is to aid the authorities in the uncovering of 
crimes and the apprehension of criminals. He may 
called as a witness, just as J:he paid witness may sometimes be 
used as an informer, but generally speaking the functions are 
separate, and the witness enters upon the scene only when the 
work of the informer is done. It has long been recognized that 
the maintenance of order in a society such as ours requires the 
use of paid informers, but the professional witness up to now 
has raacte an appearance only as the creature of disreputable 

j2j The Kept Witnesses 

law firms and private detective agencies and of certain businesses, 
reputable except in this particular, which are frequently engaged 
in litigation. 

Up to now, he has not been associated with the United 
States government. Circumstances may justify the association 
today, but it nevertheless violates the spirit of our law and 
jurisprudence. We do not ask witnesses to meet rigorous tests of 
disinterestedness, as the Romans did, but we have always in 
sisted that the giving of testimony is a bounden duty of citizen 
ship, like the payment of taxes. It is expected that it will be 
done freely and in good faith. When expectations fail, the law 
steps in. The subpoena power exists to compel testimony. Our 
courts are empowered to require witnesses to furnish bonds 
under certain conditions, and witnesses may be jailed to assure 
their appearance and prevent their being tampered with. Failure 
to meet certain prescribed rules and standards may lead to 
citations for contempt of court. It is recognized that the dis 
charge of this responsibility of citizenship is in many ways 
onerous and that it generally entails some financial sacrifice; 
the courts, therefore, pay modest witness fees. But these, like 
payments to jurors, are deliberately kept so low that they cannot 
in any sense be regarded as rewards or even as just compensation. 
Four dollars a day is the regular Department of Justice fee. 

In certain cases, it is true, the courts tolerate payment by one 
side or the other to witnesses who can provide highly specialized 
knowledge. The general rule of law is that this may be done in 
the case of men "upon whose observation and counsel, outside 
the courtroom, society itself sets a price. Doctors, alienists, and 
property appraisers are perhaps the most frequently encountered 
types. These may be paid by principals in the case, provided the 
fact of their payment is made known to the court and pro 
vided there is no contingency basis for the agreement; the pay 
ment of witnesses can under no circumstances be made to depend 
upon the outcome of the case. 

But even with these conditions the practice has always been 
regarded as a dubious one, and jurors are allowed to give what 
ever weight they choose to the fact that a witness testifying 
before than is being paid for Ms version of the truth. "The ex- 


perience of the ages/' Justice Chadwick o the Supreme Court of 
the State of Washington once wrote, "sustains the legal con 
clusion that where the truth is made to depend upon the 
pecuniary interest of the witness ... his utterances wear a 
cloak of suspicion, and they should not be accepted unless the 
taint is removed by the testimony of credible witnesses or by 
circumstances that cannot be denied/* 

The cloak of suspicion is a garment that must be wrapped 
several times around the witnesses for whose services the 
Department of Justice has contracted. For one thing, their 
pecuniary interest assuming, for the moment, that $34 a day 
constitutes one has the unusual character of a continuum. 
Ordinarily, where the possibility exists that the cupidity of a 
witness, or even his simple exigency, will color his testimony and 
thereby thwart justice, it exists only for a specific case at a 
specific time. The experience of most men and women just is 
not rich or varied enough to give them direct knowledge of 
more than a few matters that may be subject to litigation during 
their lives. But an accident of history puts the ex-Communist, 
whether his faith was feigned or authentic, in possession of an 
extraordinarily negotiable thing his past. 

As Whittaker Chambers, who has given testimony but has 
never become a professional and who has confronted the prob 
lem of negotiable pasts with candor and deep insight, has 
written, "He [the ex-Communist anti-Communist witness] risks 
little. He sits in security and uses his special knowledge to 
destroy others. He has that special information to give because 
he knows those others' faces, voices, and lives, because he once 
lived within their confidence. . . ." 

Such an ex-Communist has acquired an expertise for which 
the demand is, apparently, inexhaustible. His patron, the De 
partment of Justice, seems to measure its usefulness by the 
number of people it has jailed, by the number of deportations 
it can claim, by the number of loyalty and security risks it can 
process out of the government. It appears to be the department's 
hope to prosecute the 30,000 or so American Communists one 
by one; it recently got a start in this direction by convicting 
one Claude Lightfoot in Chicago for violation of the Smith Act 

J25 The Kept Witnesses 

not as a leader of the Communist conspiracy, not as a teacher 
of the doctrine of violent overthrow of the government, but as 
a mere member of the conspiracy, a mere adherent of the doc 
trine. With this conviction, which may well be justified by both 
the law and the public interest, whole new horizons open up 
for the department and Its witnesses. 

What is wanted now, what is likely to be wanted more and 
more in the immediate future, is Identifications identifications 
in great numbers. Plainly enough, there could be rewards for 
an elastic memory. The possibility exists, almost without end, 
of the truth being made to depend on the pecuniary interest 
of witnesses. Putting aside what may be the singular case of 
Matusow, there have been, to date, no clear Instances of fraudu 
lent identifications. But certain matters of record suggest the 
nature of the lurking dangers. 

Louis Budenz, a former editor of the Daily Worker, who has 
testified that his income from all sources as an anti-Communist 
witness and publicist has exceeded $10,000 a year, spent what 
he maintains was 3,000 hours giving the names of Communists 
to the F.B.I. 

In none of those sessions, Budenz has conceded, did he offer 
the name of John Carter Vincent or Owen Lattimore. But when 
Senator McCarthy named both these men in various con 
nections, all of them unfavorable, it came to Budenz, quite 
certainly, that they were Communists. He so testified before 
several Congressional committees and grand juries. Likewise, 
Paul Crouch talked to the F.B.L on many occasions, testified in 
numerous trials, and submitted to Congressional committees 
the names of all Communists he had known aside from rank- 
and-file members. Not once did he list a certain Jacob Burck, a 
Chicago newspaper cartoonist. When, however, Burck was the 
subject of a deportation hearing, Crouch testified that he had 
encountered him often at meetings of the Central Committee 
of the Communist party. 

The memory is notoriously the most vagrant of human facul 
ties, but there are few cases on record of a bent for mnemonic 
topicality as powerful as that revealed by Paul Crouch. In some 
instances, it is possible to rule out avarice altogether as an 


explanation for the weather changes his recall has undergone. In 
a large number o documents that he prepared and read in 
evidence before the Subversive Activities Control Board and a 
number of Congressional committees, he recounted at length his 
experiences in the Soviet Union during the period in which he 
was preparing the campaign to subvert the American military 
establishment. In these, he mentioned associations with Russian 
leaders so numerous and so mighty in power as to expose himself 
to reproaches for name-dropping. Up to 1953, there was one 
name that did not turn up on any of the lists that of Georgi 
Malenkov. In March of 1953, Malenkov succeeded to the 
premiership of the Soviet state, and in March of 1953, Crouch, 
filing the statement that led to the Fort Monmouth investigation 
with the Committee on Government Operations, revealed for 
the first time that the new Premier was among those with whom 
he had conferred in 1927. 

Crouch has acknowledged a weakness that may in his case 
help explain such quirks. Before an Army court-martial in 1925, 
he testified: "I am in the habit of writing letters to my friends 
and imaginary persons, sometimes to kings and other foreign 
persons, in which I place myself in an imaginary position. I 
do that to develop my imaginary powers." In the Leviathan, 
Hobbes wrote that * 'Imagination and memory are but one 
thing, which for divers considerations hath divers names." No 
free man's rights are put in jeopardy, no principle of law is 
dishonored when Crouch either imagines or abruptly recalls 
Georgi Malenkov as an old comrade-in-arms. But he has had 
frequent lapses and recoveries involving persons who do qualify 
for our law's protection. At the trial of Harry Bridges in 1949, 
Crouch denied acquaintance with a Communist agitator named 
David Davis. "I have never heard of David Davis," he told the 
court. "I had no knowledge of David Davis." By 1951, however, 
he had not only heard of David Davis, he had encountered him 
as early as 1928. He was examined by a federal judge about a 
Communist meeting allegedly held in 1928: 

Q. Was Mr. Davis present? 
A. Yes, your honor. 

I2 j The Kept Witnesses 

On May 6, 1949, Crouch testified before the House Com 
mittee on Un-American Activities and was asked if he knew a 
man named Armand Scala, an officer of Miami Local 500 of 
the Transport Workers Union; 

A. Very well, with Local 500. 
Q. Is he a member of the Communist party? 

A. I do not know. ... I do not know of my own knowledge what 
Ms party affiliations are. 

But on May 11, five days later, Crouch put into the record 
of the committee a statement and several affidavits amplifying 
his earlier testimony. In one, he said: "Another member and 
officer of Local 500 I knew to be active in Communist work in 
Miami is Armand Scala. Scala had been the chief Communist 
courier to Latin American countries." In an article published 
in the Hearst newspapers a few days after that, he made an even 
more explicit identification of Scala as "the chief courier of the 
party in Latin America . , . traveling to Buenos Aires and Rio 
de Janeiro frequently on party business/' In a subsequent libel 
suit, he swore to the truth of these assertions. Since the news 
paper stories had not been privileged, Scala was awarded $5,000. 

It may well be that Crouch was, as he presently insists, testi 
fying to the best of his recollection on each specific occasion. 
No more can be asked of anyone. But the fact cannot be blinked 
that the use of subsidized testimony increases the danger of sub 
sidized perjury. The rule of law against contingent fees is not 
directly violated by the contractual agreements the Department 
of Justice has with Crouch and other witnesses. These agreements 
are signed, sealed, and delivered in advance of testimony some 
times very far in advance. A witness named Daisy Van Dorn has 
testified that she received $125 a month for two years simply 
to hold herself ready to take the witness stand. However, the 
clear moral principle upon which the rule of contingency rests 
is abused by the practice. 

The department's list of the names and earnings of the "per 
sons regularly used as witnesses" shows wide variation in income 
among the professionals. An element of contingency accounts 
for the variations. A witness gets his fee whether the case is 


settled favorably or unfavorably for the government, but common 
sense and even the solicitousness for the taxpayer of which 
the government boasts must suggest that the witness who can 
assist in the production of the greatest number of convictions 
is the witness who should get the most work. In the Department 
of Justice as, for that matter, in most lesser prosecuting agencies 
throughout the country success is quantitatively measured. It 
has been customary in this country to take what steps we can 
to prevent the quantitative measurement of truth. The use of 
professional witnesses, though it may be warranted by many 
present needs, should at least be recognized as a step in the 
other direction. 

Justice Ghadwick's cloak of suspicion is becoming to the pro 
fessional witness for reasons other than those of pecuniary in 
terest. If a heavy risk is run of his memory being stimulated by 
the prospect of increased emoluments, there is an equally heavy 
risk that he will visit, not the truth as he knows it, but the fury 
of disenchantment as he feels it on those against whom he 
testifies. There is no way of being certain of how many of the 
professional witnesses are genuine apostates and how many are 
merely former police agents. 

(It is F.B.I. policy never to confirm or deny an individual's 
statement regarding instructions he claims to have had from the 
Bureau, and this has led to a certain amount of confusion. 
Matthew Cvetic told the House Un-American Activities Com 
mittee that George Dietz and Joseph Mazzei were members of 
the Communist party in Pittsburgh. Dietz and Mazzei, fired from 
their jobs, indignantly declared that they, too, were F.B.I, agents 
and had in fact been reporting to the Bureau on Cvetic's 
numerous subversive connections. Similarly, doubts were cast on 
the bona fides of William Garfield Cummings as an F.B.I, agent 
when it was revealed that his membership in the Communist 
party antedated his recruitment by the Bureau and that he 
encouraged continued service to the party by friends and rela 
tives after he left it.) 

In any event, a considerable number of the professional wit 
nesses are disaffected Communists and clearly carry the stigmata 
and disabilities, along with the special insights, of their kind. 

I2 g The Kept Witnesses 

Many of them display what may be regarded as a touching 
eagerness to serve the society they once sought to destroy; in 
some of their cases, this laudable sentiment Is fused with what 
may more reasonably be described as a thirst for revenge. Men's 
defects are often only the flaws In their virtue; the flaw may 
render the virtue nugatory. Manning Johnson, once an ardent 
Communist and more recently an ardent patriot, testified before 
the Subversive Activities Control Board that It is an article of 
his present faith that some things are more Important than 

Q. In other words, you will tell a lie under oath In a court of law 
rather than run counter to your instructions from the FBI. Is 
that right? 

A. If the interests of my government are at stake. In the face of 
enemies, at home and abroad, if maintaining secrecy of the 
techniques of methods of operation of the FBI who have responsi 
bility for the protection of our people, I say I will do it a thousand 

Again Manning Johnson, this time in a sedition trial in Penn 
sylvania and undergoing examination on his testimony in a 
deportation proceeding that had taken place earlier: 

Q. That testimony was not correct, was it, Mr. Johnson? 
A. No, it wasn't, precisely, because I could not at that time reveal 
that I had supplied Information to the FBI. ... I think the 
security of the government has priority over . . . any other con 

The fear of systems of priorities such as Mr. Johnson's has 
given rise to the legal doctrine of testis unus, testis nullus 
one witness is no witness. But a difficulty raised by the Justice 
Department's use of professionals, and by its policy of with 
holding Information about it, is that two or more witnesses may 
share this view, or a similar one. We do not know how many 
people have been convicted, deported, and discharged from 
government service on evidence supplied wholly by kept wit 

Throughout the history of societies living, or trying to live, 
under the rule of law, the role of the witness has been a vexatious 



problem for judges, lawyers, and all others who have concerned 
themselves with it. Broadly speaking, the tendency In most 
Western nations has been a steady easing of restrictions. When 
systems of law are young, jurists cling to the hope that truth 
will be received only from undefiled sources. This is sooner or 
later found to be an impossible aspiration, and in some respects 
a false one, though it is unquestionably noble in spirit. The 
judicial process, to be sure, must always be, or should always 
be, a relentless search for the truth. But we know from long 
experience that the truth is often found in the unlikeliest places. 
The fact that a Manning Johnson hates and fears Communists, 
feels betrayed by them, and regards every living one of them as 
a menace to the whole of humanity does not mean that he is 
incapable of ever telling the truth about them. What it does 
mean is that he may possibly tell something other than the 
truth and that those who use him as a source of information 
must be vigilant against the possibility of receiving misinforma 

It is doubtless necessary to use the Manning Johnsons of this 
world. Society has little choice in the matter. As police and 
prosecuting officials like to point out when they are rebuked 
for their use of low, untrustworthy characters as informers and 
witnesses it is very seldom possible to find bishops and cardinals 
who are widely acquainted among felons and well-informed on 
the workings of vice syndicates, counterfeiting gangs, dope 
peddlers, smuggling rings, and the like. Society, through its law- 
enforcement agencies, must deal with these aspects of itself, and 
it cannot afford to scorn information about them that comes 
from persons it regards with distaste and does not entirely trust 
even from persons deeply implicated in the crimes under re 
view. Though it would be agreeable to adhere to the view of 
Lord Langdale, who ruled in a famous nineteenth-century judg 
ment, that "a witness has no business to concern himself with 
the merits of the case in which he is called," we must realize 
that in many cases no such witness exists, 

Because truth often turns up where it is the least expected, 
and because we have a steady need of truth from whatever source, 
w hav progressively reduced the number of factors disqualifying 

j^j The Kept Witnesses 

witnesses and progressively increased our reliance on the power 
of the witness's oath, the perjury laws, and cross-examination. 
Up to now, though, we have not accommodated ourselves to the 
Idea o witnesses who make a business of being witnesses. It 
may be that the time has come when we must do so. It may be 
that internal security is our overriding need and that we must 
accept this device for coping with it. But If this Is the case, It 
would seem as if the problem ought to be squarely faced. The 
Department of Justice should, in that event, abandon its present 
furtiveness and give a full public accounting of the terms and 
conditions upon which it purchases testimony. It should recog 
nize, as Justice Holmes did in his weighing of the merits of 
wire tapping, that the government is caught in a conflict of 
competing "objects of desire" the desire to catch criminals and 
the desire to maintain governmental Integrity. ("We have to 
choose," Holmes said, "and for my part I think It less evil that 
some criminals should escape than that the government should 
play an Ignoble part.") There may be an equitable and decent 
way of resolving the conflict, bat no conflict can be resolved 
without first acknowledging that It exists. 

In any "serious weighing of the issues, it would be necessary, 
also, to recognize that more Is at stake than justice to individuals. 
That is, of course, the largest question of all in any free and 
open society. But it is not the only one. When the federal 
government subsidizes a group such as its present corps of pro 
fessional witnesses, it finds itself, willy-nilly, subsidizing a special 
political interest. Many of the larger categories of cases tried 
under federal law involve political principles, political ideas, 
political organizations. The Communist cases manifestly do, and 
not the least of the effects of the government's policy has been 
to give those professional witnesses who are also professional 
politicians and ideologues an opportunity to exert a considerable 
Influence on public opinion and public policy in matters on 
which they have a special, if not an eccentric, outlook. 

It should not strain credulity to suggest that if there has been 
prevalent in recent years a somewhat distorted view of the 
dimensions of the problem of domestic Communism the fault 


can in large part be charged to the account of the Department 
of Justice and its professional witnesses. 

No man, for example, has had any greater influence on the 
public view of the Communist problem than Louis F. Budenz. 
On the basis of his reputation as the government's leading wit 
ness in Smith Act cases and before Congressional committees, 
he has established an almost universal acceptance of himself as 
a high authority and of his books, articles, lectures, and tele 
vision discourses as bearing some imagined seal of official ap 
proval. Elizabeth Bentley, J. B. Matthews, Benjamin Gitlow, 
Howard Rushmore, and Joseph Kornfeder run not very far be 
hind. (Whittaker Chambers has also been enormously influential, 
but of him it must be said that his writings lend more authority 
to his testimony than his testimony lends to his writings. He is 
not, therefore, of this company.) 

Lesser witnesses have established lesser reputations on the 
strength of their endorsement by the government. Moreover, 
they have had and are having a direct influence on policy and 
law not through appeals to public opinion but through direct 
appeals to the governing powers. Paul Crouch tells the Senate 
what to do about Hawaii and how the Army should be run. 
Matthew Cvetic is called by the Senate Rules Committee to 
advise on the thorny question of rules for Congressional in 
vestigations. Maurice Malkin, the ex-convict, himself eligible for 
deportation and denaturalization, is called before the Senate 
Subcommittee on Naturalization and Immigration to make rec 
ommendations. (He thought there were too many avenues of 
appeal. He said that once it is proved that anyone is a member 
"of a certain organization, he should be deported without 
further hearings of any sort.") Almost the entire membership 
of the department corps was summoned before the Internal 
Security Subcommittee to help produce the enormous and enor 
mously influential report "Interlocking Subversion in Govern 
ment Departments" a document that more perhaps than any 
other has formed the prevailing image of Communist infiltration 
in the nineteen-thirties and forties. The kept witnesses have been 
given an opportunity to foul American due process and quite 
a bit else besides. 

* At a Baize-Covered Table on the 

Isle of Rhodes 


ONE OF THESE DAYS, perhaps, some gifted historian will undertake 
to explain how and why it was that the early autumn of this year 
turned out to be a period of upheaval and unrest in most of the 
countries that have asserted national sovereignty since the end 
of the last war. In Asia, three of them gave up temporarily, at 
least the struggle to maintain free institutions and passed into 
military dictatorship. The President of Pakistan, a soldier named 
Iskander Mirza, said he had come to the conclusion that democ 
racy couldn't work in a country where eighty-four per cent of 
the people were illiterate; he therefore abolished democracy. He 
suspended the constitution, dissolved the Parliament and the" 
Provincial Assemblies (in one of them, the Deputy Speaker was 
recently killed by flying microphones, desk tops, inkpots, and 
other artifacts of parliamentary government, in the midst of a 
brawl on the floor), outlawed all parties, arrested many poli 
ticians, and turned the state power over to General Mohammed 
Ayub Khan, the head of the Army. In Burma, the Premier, U Nu, 
a gentle Buddhist philosopher and the Burmese translator of 
Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, said 
that the chaos and corruption in the country were more than he 
could cope with; he put the Army in charge and made arrange 
ments to turn his own job over to General Ne Win, the com 
mander in chief of the Burmese defense forces. In Thailand, 
where the military had several times seized power in the last few 



years but where the constitution had remained in force, Field 
Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who had just returned home after spend 
ing almost a year in London and New York undergoing treat 
ment for cirrhosis of the liver, took over the government and 
junked the constitution justifying his action by citing the need 
to "build a stronger bulwark against Communism and to drive 
Communist elements from the country." While the lights were 
going out through much of Asia, a small one was turned back on 
in Ceylon, whose Prime Minister, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, volun 
tarily relinquished certain powers of censorship, arrest, and seiz 
ure that had been granted him some time back to deal with racial 
disturbances. But the Prime Minister himself was not sanguine 
about the future of democracy in Ceylon or elsewhere in the 
Orient. "I have always had doubts whether the system is quite 
suitable to some of our countries," he said. In Iraq, where a 
bloody palace revolution took place last July, there was an at 
tempt at another one, and the government of Lebanon, which 
had received protection from the United States Marines after the 
Iraqi revolution, came very close to collapse. In Indonesia, 
Ghana, and Tunisia, where the rulers are eloquent in their pro 
fessions of democratic and liberal sentiments, severe repressive 
measures were taken against critics and opponents of the regimes. 
The Jakarta authorities decreed that henceforth no one could 
start a newspaper without the approval of the Jakarta military 
command. Kwame Nkrumah, the Prime Minister of Ghana and 
a man often described as an African Thomas Jefferson, banned 
public meetings of the opposition party, on the ground that such 
meetings "might provoke ill-disposed persons to indulge in 
breaches of the peace." In Tunisia, President Habib Bourguiba, 
another leader widely admired as an evangel of a free society, had 
the leading opposition paper put out of business. (The paper had 
accused Bourguiba of holding a political trial of a former Pre 
mier, who had been charged with "treason" because he helped 
the old Bey of Tunis flee the country with all his jewels.) "Free 
dom is dangerous," Bourguiba said. "The state and its existence 
are essential before everything else. All this preoccupation with 
liberty is not serious. ... I am creating a nation." 
While some of these melancholy developments were being an- 

J35 ^ a Baize-Covered Table on the Isle of Rhodes 

nounced and others were In the making, I had the luck to find 
myself on the Isle of Rhodes, in the eastern Mediterranean, at 
tending a series of discussions by informed and eminent persons 
the majority of them public officials or leaders of opinion 
from the countries that were the scene of so much turbulence. 
These discussions, which were officially and ponderously called 
"An International Seminar: Representative Government and 
Public Liberties in the New States/' were planned and managed 
by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a worthy organization, 
anti-Communist and generally libertarian in outlook and asso 
ciated with no government, that has its headquarters in Paris. 
Some forty people, mostly from the so-called new states but in 
cluding a few from democracies that have been In more or less 
successful operation for a longer time, talked together, or made 
speeches at one another, for a week and a day in the Hotel des 
Roses, a seaside resort built by the Italians during their occupa 
tion of Rhodes before World War II and now mainly patronized 
by prosperous German vacationers. The costs of the gathering 
were met by the Ford Foundation, itself a new and awesome 
sovereignty In the world* 

The seminar was organized back in the spring, when it could 
hardly have been guessed that the talk would be punctuated by 
bulletins that would seem to make a good deal of what was being 
said academic. (The announcement that the Army had taken 
over in Pakistan came only a few hours after a Pakistani told the 
gathering how fortunate his country was In having an Army 
whose officers hadn't the slightest interest In politics.) But the 
organizers knew well enough that the new states were having 
their troubles as well as their triumphs, and that these troubles 
were being shared, willy-nilly, with the old states. (The term 
"new states," incidentally, satisfied no one, and the Persians, 
Siamese, and Egyptians who were cast as representatives of "new" 
sovereignties could hardly have been more uneasy than the "old" 
Americans, cast as avuncular, ripe-with-experience types.) And 
they knew, too, that if present trends continue through the next 
ten or fifteen years, there will be an even greater proliferation of 
sovereignties than occurred in the last ten or fifteen. By 1970 or 
thereabouts, Africa could easily have more representatives in 


the United Nations than the entire Western Hemisphere, and 
Asian irredentism could just about double the number of nations 
on that continent. The Cultural Freedom people thought, in 
good Western fashion, that it might be helpful if some of the 
formidable intellects from the present new states were seated, 
along with a few from the older states, at a baize-covered table, 
provided with a moderator and an agenda, and given eight days 
in which to talk. 

Rhodes, which lies only fourteen miles off the coast of Turkey 
and affords a magnificent view of the coastal ranges of the Ana 
tolian Mountains, was chosen as the site for the seminar partly 
because it is more or less conveniently situated for the new states 
and partly because it is an agreeable place to be in mid-October. 
The fact that it was allied, a few millenniums back, to the 
Athenian democracy was no doubt an extra inducement, even 
though the government that now has Athens as its capital and 
Rhodes as its easternmost province is not a particularly shining 
example of either representative government or public rights. 
Midway in the seminar, the Athens radio and newspapers 
brought the participants the news that two Greek editors had 
been clapped into jail for the novel offense of "misinterpreting" 
a newspaper article by Joseph Alsop. However, this did not pre 
vent innumerable allusions to the glory that was Greece, the 
grandeur that was Rhodes, and the great charm that the Platonic 
ideal of philosopher-kings held for a group of political intellec 

The Congress for Cultural Freedom is more interested in 
philosophers than in kings, and in the Western nations it is easy 
to tell one class from the other; indeed, it is almost impossible 
to confuse the two. In Western Europe, intellectuals may find 
their way into government a trifle more often than they do in 
this country, but, by and large, the rule in the West is that intel 
lectuals and politicians stay out of each other's way. Of the fifteen 
or so Europeans and Americans at Rhodes, only four had any 
official connections. These were the Right Honourable John 
Strachey, M.P., a son of Bloomsbury who has a Labour con 
stituency in Dundee and was Secretary of State for War under 
Clement Attlee; Frode Jacobsen, a member of the Danish Par- 

137 dt a Baize-Covered Table on the Isle of Rhodes 

llament and a sometime Cabinet Minister; Judge Charles Wy- 
zanski, Jr., of the Federal District Court In Massachusetts; and 
Gunnar Myrdal, the famous Swedish economist and sociologist 
(and the author of what Is often said to be the most comprehen 
sive study ever made of race relations in the United States), who 
has now and then worked for his own government and for the 
United Nations, and whose wife Is at present the Swedish Ambas 
sador to India. There were four other Americans, three French 
men, and one Italian (the novelist Ignazio Silone), none of 
whom held either appointive or elective office, and none of 
whom, as far as was known, had political aspirations, 

In most of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, though, things 
are very different; scratch an intellectual In those parts of the 
world and the chances are better than even that you will find a 
politician possibly a President or Prime Minister, almost cer 
tainly a member of, or candidate for, Parliament. There are at 
least two good reasons for this. One is that the independence 
movements have been mostly led by Intellectuals, who thus find 
themselves on the ground floor when nationhood is achieved 
as men like Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and the Adamses did 
in the early days here. The other is that illiteracy Is so widespread 
In most of the areas that have become or are about to become 
self-governing that any man of any education has to be pressed 
into service pro bono publico. In fact, the scarcity of competence 
is so great that a good many new states have had to hire foreign 
ers to get things going for them. For Instance, one participant 
in the Rhodes seminar, a seminarist from Tunisia, was Cecil 
Hourani, a man of Lebanese-Arab ancestry who was born in 
Manchester, was formerly an Oxford don, and at present plays 
a Harry Hopkins-Sherman Adams role for President Bourguiba. 
The Israeli intellectual was the journalist Moshe Sharett, a 
former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, and at present 
a member of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, while the man 
from the United Arab Republic was Ibharim Abdel Rahman, 
an astrophysicist who serves President Nasser as secretary-general 
of the National Planning Commission in Cairo. (After the open 
ing session, neither of these showed up when the other was 


The people invited to the seminar were chosen not for their 
political attainments but for their presumed ability to participate 
in a free and rational discussion of the state of democracy and 
liberty in the countries they came from. But in the new states the 
men who have the intellectual equipment for such a discussion 
almost invariably turn out to be either running the show or 
hoping to run it soon. It was largely on this account, I think, 
that the seminar failed to provide anything very striking in the 
way of polemics. One thing it did provide was evidence that the 
doubling in brass of the intellectuals itself constitutes one of the 
major problems for the new states. The Westerners, lacking 
political responsibilities and political hopes, could speak with 
detachment of the societies they represented; only a few of the 
non-Westerners could do so. This first came to light when an 
Indian, politician with an iconoclastic turn of mind Minocher R. 
Marsani, a former mayor of Bombay and a member of the 
Indian Parliament who is among the sharpest of Mr. Nehru's 
critics said that in the course of a visit to Brazil a few years ago 
he learned that the Brazilians had established literacy require 
ments for the exercise of suffrage; the thought had then crossed 
his mind, he said, that his own country might have given some 
thought to this possibility when its constitution was drawn up 
in 1949. Mr. Marsani did not say that he opposed universal 
suffrage; he said merely that he had been struck by the fact that 
the idea of limiting the franchise to people who could read and 
write had never even been examined by the founding fathers of 
Indian democracy. The effect of these observations on his com 
patriots and on certain other Asian and African politicians was 
roughly comparable to the one that might be produced in the 
Congress of the United States if someone took the floor to recom 
mend that all members of the American Legion, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., 
Rotary International, the League of Women Voters, the National 
Grange, and the Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches 
should be stripped of the rights of citizenship. Illiterates constitute 
about eighty-five per cent of the population of India, and are thus 
an enfranchised bloc a good deal larger than the combined mem 
bership of these respectable American organizations. One after an 
other, the highly literate Indian participants, reinforced by allies 

*39 At a Baize-Covered Table on the Isle of Rhodes 

from other countries where illiteracy is widespread, rose to de 
nounce Mr. Marsani's heresy and explain what splendid citizens, 
what wise electors, what shrewd judges of character, what incor 
ruptible spirits the illiterate peasantry were. The speakers were not 
content to point out that there could be educated boobs and men 
of unlettered wisdom; they were trying to suggest that it was un 
fair and undemocratic to make any correlation between judgment 
and knowledge, and they carried this so far that an impression 
able observer might have drawn the conclusion that a convoca 
tion of some of the world's most highly trained intellects was 
advancing the argument that illiteracy was a blessed state indeed, 
and that the world would be better off if only it were more wide 
spread. Some unimpressionable onlookers drew the conclusion 
that few democratic politicians, Eastern or Western, highbrow or 
lowbrow, from new states or old, will ever allow themselves to be 
put in the position of questioning the virtues of any sizable bloc 
of voters certainly not a bloc that is eighty-five per cent of the 
whole and about 325 million in number. 

At Rhodes, moments of candor and self-criticism were rare, and 
most of them were provided by Westerners. Robert M. Hutchins, 
the former president of the University of Chicago and now the 
president of the Fund for the Republic, drew a portrait of 
American society not "with warts and everything," as Cromwell 
wished to be drawn, but with warts and almost nothing else, and 
in a brief talk on political parties Ignazio Silone seemed to be 
saying that in the West and, l>y implication, everywhere that 
Western practices are followed all mass parties must come to 
approximately the same bad end as the monolithic, doctrinaire, 
intellectually corrupt Communists. It was not that the men from 
the new states were complacent about the way things were going 
back home; it was, instead, that they preferred to dwell on the 
obstacles placed in their way by such large, unmanageable forces 
as history, tradition, and the uneven distribution of natural 
bounties rather than to discuss difficult but conceivably assailable 
problems like the scarcity of educated men and women, and the 
need that democratic societies had for the kind of critical and 
analytical minds that were so obviously in short supply even at 
this select gathering, Edward A. Shils, an American sociologist 



who acted as chairman of the seminar for most of its meetings, 
wrote a brilliant paper on this very subject, which was circulated 
to the participants a paper arguing that democracy and public 
liberties can hardly exist unless there are, outside the state appa 
ratus, a number of people dedicated to the job of examining 
and appraising the workings of the apparatus. The argument 
aroused little interest or sympathy; in fact, a session devoted to 
discussing it was sidetracked by an impromptu and interminable 
exposition of Islamic polity by a learned Lebanese who lectures 
on such matters at Oxford the brother, as it happens, of the 
Lebanese who is the strong right arm of the President of Tunisia. 
(Oxford was a great presence at the seminar; it had sons on hand 
from many countries, and they made as distinct a fraternity, 
socially and intellectually, as the Americans, the French, or the 

A few non-Westerners attempted hard analysis and criticism, 
but they met with little success in inducing others to undertake 
this exercise. The most notable attempt was made by a Siamese 
named Kukrit Pramoj, a Bangkok publisher and a prince of the 
ruling house, who had barely managed to make the seminar, 
having been acquitted only a few days before of charges of sedi 
tion and libel over some unflattering observations about the 
American Ambassador. Prince Pramoj, an old Oxonian himself, 
was a worldling beside whom most of the other participants 
seemed like so many Dr. Panglosses. He delivered himself of some 
home thoughts from abroad, whose tenor was that democracy 
(an ideal he respected as much as anyone else at the meeting) had 
in his country just about succeeded in wiping out public liberties 
such as free speech and a free press that had been fairly secure 
under an absolute monarch; in fact, it had merely led to the 
replacement of one absolute monarch by two hundred of them. 
Representative government, he said, could have little meaning 
in a country whose people had not accepted or had not grasped 
the idea of a conflict of economic interests or of a conflict be 
tween private and public interests. There are, he said, about 
thirty parties in Thailand, practically all of them co-operatives 
or benevolent associations for politicians. He pointed out that 
Thailand's situation is a bit different from that of the former 

J^r At a Baize-Covered Table on the Isle of Rhodes 

colonies. Illiteracy is not above thirty-five per cent, which means 
that there are a good many people qualified by schooling, if not 
by devotion to the general welfare, for political jobs. And just 
about everyone wants a political job, he declared; the arrival of 
democratic politics in Thailand was like the arrival of television 
or air-conditioning in an industrialized country it opened up 
an entirely new field for employment and money-making. Since 
the politics were mostly concerned with nothing political (there 
simply can't be thirty different approaches to the problems of 
Thailand), they turned out to be mostly about money-making. 
Representative government, he said, had developed into organ 
ized corruption, and when public liberties got in the way of this 
important enterprise as when someone risked giving offense to 
the American Ambassador the tendency of the state was to 
deny them. 

At the conclusion of his talk, Prince Framoj, who had mani 
fested a great impatience with the oratory and pedantry that 
characterized much of the seminar, threw out a challenge to the 
other participants from the new states to put aside hopes and 
distant prospects for the moment and describe, as factually as 
they could, the present condition of democracy and freedom in 
their countries. He said that this would redeem for him the long 
trip to Rhodes and the long days of sitting in a hotel ballroom 
listening to talk. He was roundly applauded, but no one rose to 
accept his challenge, and the discussion quickly soared back to 
the high level of theory and historical perspective from which 
he had dragged it down. (Later in the seminar, a newly arrived 
Burmese lawyer and journalist, Dr. Maung Maung, spoke in the 
same spirit as Prince Pramoj, but not in response to his chal 
lenge.) At the instance of Mr. Strachey, the left end of the Oxford 
team, a good deal of time and huge stores of heavy irony were 
spent in pursuit of the question of whether there existed in the 
new states the "class struggle" that Mr. Strachey (though no 
longer as pure a Marxist as he was twenty years ago) still regards 
as the first fact of life in the old states. Now and then, there were 
promising starts at discussing how far essentially European insti 
tutions, such as common law, could or should be adapted to 
non-European cultures. There was always someone ready to 


remind the Europeans and Americans that their ideas of right 
and wrong and good and bad were not the only ones in the 
world of men, but there was very seldom anyone who could be 
specific in making distinctions. At one point, a noted specialist 
in African affairs said flatly that much of Negro Africa found 
the system of law introduced by the British repugnant to the 
local perceptions of reality. M. Raymond Aron, the distinguished 
columnist of Le Figaro, of Paris, and a man who made a large 
contribution to the seminar by repeatedly asking "How?" and 
"Why?" and "Where?" and "When?/* said that this piqued his 
curiosity; he wished to be set straight on exactly what percep 
tions the man was talking about. The specialist said that it wasn't 
easy to think of an example just then, but that one would surely 
come to him. In a moment, one did: An African villager who 
discovers that the tracks of a missing domestic animal lead 
directly to the pen of a neighbor, he said, cannot follow the prin 
ciple of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that holds a man innocent 
until he is proved guilty; he will assume the neighbor's guilt, 
leaving it up to the suspect to prove his innocence. One had the 
feeling that if the difference between cultures went only this far 
that if African villagers held roughly the same view of things 
as Wyoming ranchers then one man's meat would be another 
man's meat, Anglo-Saxon democracy would be a universal value, 
and life would be quite simple; on the other hand, however, one 
had the stronger feeling that life was not this simple, that the 
example did not exemplify but showed, perhaps, only the diffi 
culty of putting profound differences into words at an interna 
tional conference paid for by the Ford Foundation, and that 
possibly the very notion of trying to get at the truth by seating a 
lot of people around a table in a first-class hotel was culture- 
bound and foolish. 

Yet the worldling Prince Pramoj did not succumb to such 
doubts. Twice more he challenged the seminar to deal with con 
crete problems. Once, after a lush bit of rhetoric by a French 
West African named Thomas Diop on European and American 
inhumanity to the darker-skinned peoples of the earth, he said 
that his "boredom would be relieved" if he could receive an 
encouraging report on the steps being taken to eliminate class 

14$ At a Baize-Covered Table on the Isle of Rhodes 

and caste and color distinctions in the parts of the world not 
dominated by Europeans and Americans. And on another occa 
sion he raised the question of whether certain groups of people 
that had achieved, or were soon to achieve, nationhood were not 
too small and too poor for so difficult and costly an undertaking. 
Africa, he said, seems well on its way toward being cut up into a 
host of nations (many of them no larger in population and, in 
some cases, in size than Connecticut or New Jersey), with each, 
unless fashions change greatly or history stops repeating itself, 
striving to maintain an army, a navy, an air force, foreign em 
bassies, and, in time, no doubt, an atomic-energy establishment. 
Does it all make sense, he asked. No one answered him directly, 
but an answer emerged: Sense or no sense, this is what the people 
seem to want. A Nigerian spokesman, after hearing Moshe 
Sharett proudly describe the way the Israelis had used their 
army as an educational institution, said that this was exactly 
what his countrymen planned to do after 1960, when they would 
achieve independence. The armed forces, he said, would not be 
a bunch of idlers; when the troops were not defending the father 
land, they would be learning to read and write and operate lathes 
and drive tractors and repair sewing machines, and so forth. At 
this point, someone propounded an extraordinary question: 
Would it be necessary for Nigeria to have armed forces? The 
spokesman Mr. Ayo Ogunsheye, director of the department of 
extramural studies at University College, Ibadan, and one of the 
most interesting speakers at the seminar said that of course 
the country would need armed forces. What for? To protect the 
frontiers. But Nigeria will be completely surrounded by French 
colonies and a United Nations trust territory; is France likely to 
attempt to subdue an independent Nigeria in the world of 1960? 
Probably not, Mr. Ogunsheye said, but, after all, an army is an 
attribute of nationhood; every nation has one. Not Costa Rica, 
it was pointed out. Mr. Ogunsheye was unmoved. The Tunisian 
Mr. Hourani came to Ms aid. He remarked that an army needn't 
be such a great expense, because it isn't really necessary to arm 
every soldier. The Tunisians, he explained, have a fine army with 
only one rifle for every four riflemen- Professor John Kenneth 
Galbraith, of Harvard* rose to suggest that in time the new 


African states would prove themselves capable of cultivating the 
tensions and hostilities that Europe had so brilliantly achieved 
and that made the maintenance o armies seem so worth while. 
Mr. Louis Fischer, an American journalist who has made some 
thing of a specialty of the new states, said that he found Mr. 
Ogunsheye's attitude entirely understandable. "A gentleman 
needs a necktie/' Mr. Fischer said. 

The seminar touched only lightly on the questions that seemed 
from what may be the narrow and parochial point of view 
that came naturally to at least one American to be the most 
important ones for the new states. The new states are mostly in 
what we used to called "backward regions" and now call "under 
developed areas" though for several, particularly in the Middle 
East, "overdeveloped" might be a more accurate term. They are 
poor, and at the present time their prospects for riches are not 
great. The United States, in contrast, had a virgin continent to 
develop, and there are parts of it that remain virgin to this day, 
thousands of years after much of North Africa and Asia was 
agriculturally, at any rate worked almost to death. The United 
States is only now feeling the first faint tremors of the population 
explosion that is rocking many of the new and burgeoning 
sovereignties; while we have the technology to cope with it for 
a century or two, at least, there are grounds for suspecting that it 
is already beyond control in certain parts of the world. We 
achieved national unity (though not without a hideous war 
that, if it had been fought with modern weapons, might have 
destroyed us altogether) because we had plenty of time in which 
to assimilate aliens and teach them our language, and because 
the aliens were persuaded to come to us by their admiration for 
what we were doing. This nation grew organically; the majority 
of the new states achieved mere growth long ago, far in advance 
of nationhood, and in most cases they now seek to achieve unity 
within boundaries that were never intended to be national ones 
but were merely drawn to mark off the outer limits of some Eu 
ropean empire's power or interest. Many of the new states even 
the minuscule ones lack so much as a common tongue. If the 
characteristics of a nation are common loyalties and a common 
language, then India, which, of the lot, appears to have the most 

*45 At a Baize-Covered Table on the Isle of Rhodes 

representative government and the widest public liberties, should 
be not one nation but a dozen and, in the opinion of some 
authorities, it may be, one sad day. In the continental United 
States, there have never been very many people who, if asked what 
temporal authority their loyalties were pledged to, would answer 
anything but "the United States." In India, on the myriad islands 
of Indonesia, in nomad Iraq, and even in little Ghana, there are 
vast numbers of people who have little awareness if they have 
any at all of the fact that they are nationals of the recognized 
governments of those territories. The United States had a hun 
dred years in which it ignored and was largely ignored by the rest 
of the world; the new states are under enormous pressures, both 
Communist and anti-Communist, to take part in the world strug 
gle for power. 

It could only be hoped that one American's view of the pros 
pects of the new states was as myopic as some of the people at 
the seminar must have thought it, and that American experience 
was not as relevant as it seemed. 



Holmes, J., Sage 


"IN COMPRESSION OF STATEMENT/' Stlmson Bullltt has written 
of Mr. Justice Holmes, "he was a rival of Tacitus and an equal of 
Bacon." He was In any case a splendid writer as accomplished 
a stylist, at least in the narrow sense, as this country has produced. 
There Is a liveliness and tension and rub about the briefest of 
Holmes* letters and the least controversial of his opinions from 
the bench. He never spoke or wrote except crisply. He never 
committed a soggy sentence. 

Holmes may not endure the centuries as Tacitus has, or Bacon. 
One certain fact, though, Is that he lived in that state of grace 
we call maturity as long as any man In history. Holmes, who 
knew John Qulncy Adams and Alger Hiss, was intellectually 
adult in adolescence, and he reached his middle nineties without 
being overtaken by senility. Aged nineteen, in the summer before 
Lincoln's election, he wrote a Harvard theme on Albrecht Diirer 
that only recently was cited by Wolfgang Stechow, an eminent 
German critic, as making Ruskin's essay on Diirer sound hazy, 
hasty, and trivial by comparison. Three-quarters of a century 
later, Holmes was cracking jokes with Harold Laski and advising 
him that Franklin Roosevelt was "a good fellow with rather a 
soft edge"; urging the soft-edged one to "form your battalions 
and fight"; shooting off prickly commentaries on current cases 
to his friend Sir Frederick Pollock; gossiping with Walter 
Lippmann; eying Washington flappers through his Georgetown 
window; reading Ernest Hemingway; and talking on the radio. 
George Bernard Shaw started as early as Holmes and ended as 
late and was flashier all the way, but In most things Shaw lacked 


Holmes' finish and judgment. ("He seems to me/* Holmes said, 
"to dogmatize in an ill-bred way on his personal likes and 
dislikes. Of course I delight in his wit.") "Maturity" was never 
the word for Shaw, but it was for Holmes, who had no flibber 
tigibbet stages, though he was sometimes undone by flipness, a 
quite different thing. It took him forty years to appreciate 
Lincoln. "Few men in baggy trousers and bad hats are recognized 
as great by those who see them/' he had explained, lamely, to a 
lady in 1909. He early decided that most liberals and radicals 
"drooled," so he not only withheld his sympathy but missed most 
of what they had to say. But though he may have often been 
wrong, he was never stupid and never foolish. And never, above 
all, banal. No platitude was ever known to cross his lips. 

Holmes was a sage probably the truest one this country has 
produced. The term seems to have occurred to everyone who has 
written of him. "A sage with the bearing of a cavalier/* Walter 
Lippmann said. "He wears wisdom like a gorgeous plume." A 
sage is a man, generally old, who wears wisdom, but the wisdom 
need not be particularly original, though it should always seem 
to be fresh. Holmes was more original in expression than in 
thought. He was not a philosopher in any creative sense. He 
was more to use a distinction of his own, but not one that he 
applied to himself "a retail dealer in notions" than "the 
originator of large ideas." He belongs, I think, with Montaigne, 
Dr. Johnson, and all the great apostles of common sense. Someone 
has said that his was the profoundest intellect that ever dispensed 
Anglo-Saxon justice, and this may well be so, but his gift was for 
criticism and elucidation, not for invention and construction. It 
is not clear that he ever acknowledged this, and certainly he 
wished it to be otherwise. He hungered shamelessly for im 
mortality in the sense of remembrance beyond the grave. He had 
high hopes that the "little fragments of my fleece that I have left 
upon the hedges of life" would not be blown away. He spoke of 
anticipating "the subtle rapture of a postponed power" and he 
said that "no man has earned the right to intellectual ambition 
until he has learned to lay his course by a star which he has never 
seen to dig by the divining rod for springs which he may never 
reach." But he did not ever really do this; he was no dowser; the 

*5 J Holmes, J. 9 Sage 

revolutionary urges were wholly alien to him. It may be that he 
was too skeptical and mordant to wish to break through to new 
territory. He did not much like new territory, anyway, or Innova 
tion. He had a way of fixing his gaze on the funny part of every 
landscape. "I think pragmatism an amusing humbug," he wrote 
Pollock, "like most of William James's speculations, as distin 
guished from his admirable and well-written Irish perceptions of 
life. They all of them seem to me of the type of his answer to 
prayer In the subliminal consciousness the spiritualist's promise 
of a miracle If you will turn down the gas." Metaphysics he 
regarded as mainly "churning the void to make cheese." He read 
more history and science than philosophy. Most moralities, theolo 
gies, and antitheologles were "human criticism of or rebellion at 
the Cosmos, which to my mind is simply damning the weather." 
Holmes' The Common Law is still judged a considerable work by 
authorities in the field, and it Is a joy to read now simply for 
style and logic, but It is essentially, as It was Intended to be, a 
piece of nineteenth-century exposition a history and com 
mentary lighted by the best of what was then, and largely still 
Is, modern thought. What Holmes could do superbly was state a 
case or extract an essence in a few clear and compelling words. 
Other men in his time labored and produced fat books to make 
some point that he could clinch in a single declarative sentence. 
Toward the end of his life, there was, for example, a school 
called "legal realism." The core of Its doctrine had been ex 
pressed by Holmes, In 1897, * n a now famous asseveration: "It 
Is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that 
so It was laid down in the time of Henry IV." That is the 
totality of the case against stare decisis, or abiding by the judicial 
precedents. Much of the rest of the case for "legal realism" was 
summed up by Holmes In these few words: "The Common Law 
Is not a brooding omnipresence In the sky but the articulate 
voice of some sovereign or quasi-sovereign that can be identified. 
. . . [The law is] what the courts do in fact." 

The great thing about Holmes was that he faced the dilemma 
of the modern mind he snorted at phrases like that un 
flinchingly, merrily, and responsibly, while such contemporaries 
as Henry Adams and John Jay Chapman turned Into cranks and 


helpless neurotics, some of them going clean off their rockers and 
others, like Henry James, averting their gaze and dwelling (to the 
world's vast profit, in this instance) on other things. Holmes 
came to believe, at his father's knee, that "we're in the belly of 
the universe, not that it is in us." He thought this anguishing, 
and he never stopped thinking about It, but he discovered a way 
of living with it. He was a moral and though It did not come 
easily to him a compassionate man, and he knew that he was 
so partly by choice, partly by breeding. All his values were, in 
any case, elected ones; a few he had deliberately chosen, the 
rest he deliberately accepted from his forebears and the com 
munity, but none of them without reluctance and a certain 
amount of grumbling. Perhaps one of the reasons he was not 
truly a philosopher was that he found it convenient to go through 
life believing no more than he had to believe and investigating 
only the irresistible problems. "All I mean by truth is what I 
can't help thinking." He hated the bleakness of the world he 
saw and the even bleaker horizons that came into view when he 
squinted. He could not avoid thinking that "the sacredness of 
human life is a purely municipal ideal of no validity outside the 
jurisdiction/' But he forced himself to accept the municipal 
ideal because his moral instincts told him to and because he was 
social that is, because he enjoyed being part of the munici 
pality. Politically, his bent was conservative. He simply decided, 
early in life, to accept the community values and moralities he 
found defensible on terms other than those of truth. "Morality 
is simply another means of living," he wrote, "but the saints 
make it an end in itself." Nevertheless, he liked it as a way of 
living. His morality was conservative and conventional, too. 
Theodore Roosevelt once said he could carve from a banana a 
judge with more spine than Holmes, This was unfair. Holmes 
had no faith in democracy or social welfare or the common people 
or the uncommon people, or even, ultimately, in justice, another 
municipal ideal. But he could not help thinking that some 
things ought to be sacred "I do accept a rough equation between 
isness and oughtness" and he settled on some of these. And he 
worked up the closest thing he could to fervor. Of free speech, 

155 Holmes, /., Sage 

he said that "in the abstract, I have no very enthusiastic belief, 
though I hope I would die for it." 

Holmes was hugely aided, in getting through life in a service 
able way, by this ardently felt need for knight-errantry. He 
quickly elected to value the idea of dying for sacred principles 
even if he could not find any. This at times misled him, at least 
from a mid-twentieth-century point of view. Holmes went into 
the Union army thinking little of the Union. He regarded 
Lincoln as rather a fathead. As for abolitionism, he waxed some 
times hot, sometimes cold, but mostly tepid. He gave twenty-five 
cents to the Anti-Slavery Society, which was, even by the 
standards of the day, pikerish of him. Now and then, he worked 
up a degree of conviction, but it never lasted. Yet he fought like 
a tiger and toward the end of the war began to take the view that 
philosophies should be judged by their power to compel 
sacrifice. He held it into the next century. "The faith is true 
and adorable/* he wrote Harold Laski, "which leads a soldier 
to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, 
in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of 
which he has no notion, under tactics of which he does not see 
the use/' True and adorable, indeed! Had he lived a few years 
beyond 1935, he would not have said this. Some of his views 
his admiration for the martial virtues, his fatalism, his belief 
in the futility of most efforts to improve life made him at times 
hard and imperious and possibly even cruel. But there was a 
warmth to him that pessimism could not reduce by very much, 
and there was an immense joie de vivre. "I was repining," he 
once wrote Pollock, "at the thought of my slow progress how 
few new ideas I had or picked up when it occurred to me to 
think of the total of life and how the greater part was wholly 
absorbed in living and continuing life victuals procreation 
rest and eternal terror. And I bid myself accept the common 
lot: an adequate vitality would say daily: 'God what a good 
sleep I've had/ *My eye that was a dinner/ 'Now for a rattling 
walk * in short, realize life as an end in itself. Functioning is all 
there is only our keenest pleasure is in what we might call the 
higher sort. I wonder if cosmically an idea is any more important 


than the bowels/* Not more Important cosmically, perhaps, but 
other things being equal more Important In lesser ways and, 
as a rule, more Interesting. "My aim below/* he wrote Pollock 
at another time, "has been solely to make a few competents like 
you say that I had hit the ut de poitrlne In my line." The chival 
rous assumptions, the pleasure he took in the stuff of life, and 
the reaching for high C combined to give us a sage, a noble 
jurist, and a very fine writer. 

White Mountaineer 


THE DIE WAS CAST, the dew was off the meadow the moment It 
became known that It was seldom a Dutch treat when Sherman 
Adams, the Assistant to the President, and Bernard Goldfine, 
the woollens man, were together. From then on, it mattered very 
little whether the House Committee on Legislative Oversight 
turned up any new evidence in the case, "I need him," said the 
President, knowing the worst, but the correspondents gathered in 
the Indian Treaty Room knew what all the king's horses and all 
the king's men couldn't do. The political mischief had been done. 
When chastity gets lost, it is for keeps. Eisenhower could have 
spared himself some awkward times In press conferences by a 
stout repudiation of a double standard of political morality, but 
consistency Is a mean virtue, and in any case the damage to his 
system for subcontracting political authority was beyond repair. 
For one thing, Sherman Adams could never again be protected 
from the Congress. His vicuna coat might shield him from the 
elements,* but it and the Oriental rug and the hotel bills 
worked like a radiologist's dose of barium In making him 
accessible to close scrutiny. As the President's agent extraordinary, 
he had been like the Secret Service and the Central Intelligence 
Agency In that he could not function effectively while others 
looked on; if he was to be a watched pot, he would never boil. 

* Cozlly or otherwise, depending on the quality. After all, the reason Gold- 
fine got in trouble in the first place was that the Federal Trade Commission 
took the position that there was not as much wool of a certain grade in 
Goldfine's yard goods as Goldfine's labels said there was. Had this question 
not arisen, there would have been no need for Adams to call the F.T.G. in 
Goldfine's behali 


Until last month, he successfully avoided examination. Senator 
McCarthy wanted to put him on the stand in the Army-McCarthy 
hearings. Senator Kefauver sought his expert testimony during 
the fuss over the Dixon-Yates contract. Both times Adams spoke 
the magic words about separation of powers and the privileged 
character of executive communication, and that was that. But 
now, thanks to Goldfine's handsome benefactions, this will no 
longer do. Having once admitted a certain confusion of private 
affairs with public ones, he has forfeited the right to claim that 
he never acts except on behalf of the President. The claim won't 
wash. What is more, Mr. Adams has probably made it impossible 
for any successor to enjoy the immunity he has enjoyed. If he 
quits and a successor is found, the new man will be under 

From the start, Adams and his White House associates, includ 
ing the President, have relied on defensive strategies that are 
just about as damaging as an outright admission of malfeasance. 
One is the tu quoque, or you're another, argument, which 
consists in pointing out that most members of Congress and 
many members of the press have received favors from private 
citizens and done favors in return. The noted entertainer and 
public-relations authority Tex McCrary has been installed in the 
Mayflower to gather bushels of documents to support this argu 
ment, which, putting aside all questions of relevance and logic, 
has the disadvantage of making enemies in exactly those places 
where friends are most needed. The other line of defense has 
even graver flaws. To assert his integrity, Adams has had to 
concede a lack of good sense. With an innocence that would have 
done him credit if innocence were of much value in his calling, 
he told the Harris Subcommittee that he had made errors "of 
judgment but not of intent," and the President seconded this by 
saying that, as he saw it, his Assistant had not been wicked but 
only "imprudent/' Some defense of Adams* virtue was certainly 
called for, but to explain that what may have had the appearance 
of moral delinquency was only bad judgment is hardly, in this 
case, more helpful than it would be to say of a banker, for 
example, that the man did not lack a knowledge of finance but 
was merely, on occasion, larcenous, To put it rather coarsely, 

/57 White Mountaineer 

Adams was put on the payroll not to exercise his honesty but to 
apply good judgment. As between a defect of virtue and a defect 
of prudence, the latter may be, from the point of view of the 
general welfare, the more serious. The commonwealth as a whole 
would not have suffered greatly If In fact Adams had put In the 
fix at the Federal Trade Commission so that his friend could 
label his merchandise as he chose. But a few lapses from good 
sense by a man wielding such powers as Adams is reputed to 
have had could be costly and painful to everyone. 

He will not again wield great powers, even In the unlikely 
event that he stays on through the end of his patron's term. 
There is, of course, a certain amount of doubt as to whether the 
powers he wielded deserve to be described in the terms the press 
has generally used. Adams was never a high-policy man. John 
Foster Dulles has had complete charge of diplomacy, George 
Humphrey has called the tune on ways and means, and the 
President himself has laid down the administration line on 
welfare issues. Adams has had a hand In patronage and politics 
and office management. He has checked the mail; handled visitors 
who cannot be turned away at the front door yet do not rate an 
audience with Himself; and settled arguments that arise among 
administration officials. His work has not required unique gifts, 
but this, probably, does not alter the fact that his presence has 
been Important. When Eisenhower came to office, necessity 
mothered the invention of a deputy President. The new President 
lacked, on the one hand, political experience, and, on the other, 
a zest for acquiring it. Most of the tasks that have taken up most 
of the time of Presidents Interested him hardly at all, and most 
of the people a President normally sees were not to his taste. 
There simply had to be a Sherman Adams, and it Is interesting 
now to recall that Eisenhower knew this from before the start; 
he came back from Europe to enter the New Hampshire pri 
maries and right away hired the Governor of New Hampshire, 
one of the first politicians he met. Adams has been essential to 
him. The kind of work he does makes him expendable, provided 
he Is replaceable. A willing successor might easily enough be 
found, but the very fact that he was Adams' successor would 
make him vulnerable. For a time, at least, no one will be allowed 


to work in the shadows. It appears very much as if Eisenhower 
will have to do for himself whatever it is that Adams has always 
done for him. 

The question that everyone in Washington has been trying 
to answer is: How on earth did Sherman Adams get into this 
mess in the first place? What weakness of perception allowed him 
to accept, of all things, a coat from a man he knew to be at odds 
with the authorities? The hotel bills one can perhaps under 
stand, despite the fact that a member of the Truman administra 
tion owed his downfall to a few days on the cuff at the Saxony In 
Miami Beach; still and all, hotel bills can be regarded as enter 
tainment. And a rug for one's living-room floor, particularly if 
there was some talk of returning it one day, could just possibly 
be regarded as what the President described as "a tangible 
expression of friendship." But for a man charged, as Adams was, 
with most of the work in cleaning up "the mess in Washington" 
to accept the symbolic garment of corruption, a coat, from a 
businessman petitioning the government for relief this has 
flabbergasted all of Washington. What was Sherman Adams 
thinking of? How could any man in his right mind have been 
so foolish? Adams' admirers have never been great in number 
in the capital (no one in his position could hope for too many 
admirers), but it has never been suggested that the man is a 
fool. Thus far, his association with Goldfine is his only really 
striking error of judgment. Nor is it credible that he is simply 
one more venal politician. If he were, he would have covered 
his tracks more artfully, and the chances are that he would have 
had far less to do with such compulsive name-droppers as Ber 
nard Goldfine and Goldfine's odd associate of former times, 
John Fox. Also, if personal gain had been his central motive, 
he would have left the administration some while back and ex 
ploited his connections from the outside, where the exploiting is 
really good. Whatever else may be said of the Assistant to the 
President, the length of his service testifies either to his loyalty 
to his President and his party or to his fondness for power and 
conceivably to a combination of these. Moreover, he has served, 
as far as anyone now knows, selflessly; it is impossible to detect 
In any of the transactions in which he has been known to have 

15^ White Mountaineer 

had a part any self-serving decisions or resolutions. Members of 
the Harris Subcommittee have said that they have not yet un 
folded the whole story of Sherman Adams, but It is a fairly safe bet 
that if the files currently held anything juicier than what has been 
spread on the record over the past month, some indication of 
the character of this intelligence would by now have been given. 
If Adams is neither stupid nor venal, the law must lie some 
where in his political education and perhaps, too, in the political 
atmosphere that envelops him. He must simply never have under 
stood that his relationship with Goldfine would be interpreted 
by most people as being quite as improper as anything that came 
to light in the Truman administration and at the same time 
downright hilarious to those who have always regarded him as 
the sternest of the deacons in the Eisenhower administration. 
When he ordered the late Harold Talbott to resign as Secretary 
of the Air Force because Talbott had attended to some personal 
affairs on office time and written some private letters on office 
stationery, he must have thought of his action not as a defense 
of morality but simply as the enforcement of a house rule. This 
confusion of values, if that is what it was, might be explained 
by the fact that his whole training has been that of a provincial 
politician. When he met Eisenhower, he was a lumber merchant 
who had served briefly in the New Hampshire legislature, a 
single term in the House of Representatives, and two terms as 
governor of New Hampshire. Before he became an Eisenhower 
enthusiast (he had, he once explained, been on Senator Robert 
A. Taft's side on most matters of policy, but he became convinced 
early in 1952 that the then General was "the fastest horse in the 
stable"), he had had no experience in national politics aside 
from his two years in the House, which is an extraterritorial 
jungle inhabited by tribesmen whose chief concern while 
there is with what is going on around the council fires at 
home. As a New Hampshire politician, Adams had gone to a 
school in which the prevailing moral philosophies are as 
greatly at variance with those professed in Washington as if 
they came from two wholly different societies in wholly different 
stages of development. In most state governments, and notably 
in that of New Hampshire, the idea of conflict of interest simply 


does not exist. On the contrary, a mutuality of interest between 
government and business is taken for granted, and men often go 
into the legislative branches to represent their businesses. Adams 
used to have no hesitation in telling his early biographers that 
he had entered the New Hampshire legislature which is, in 
cidentally, one of the world's largest parliaments, with 424 mem 
bers, or one for every one thousand citizens of the state at the 
instance of his superiors in the Parker- Young Lumber Company 
and primarily for the purpose of representing the firm. In state 
politics, especially in those states that have not yet got what 
they regard as their full share of capital investment, a man who 
speaks for a prominent industry is very much pro bono publico. 
A good many politicians take the statehouse view of life to 
Washington, but as a rule the view undergoes certain modifica 
tions. They come to regard themselves, particularly if they are 
Republicans, as spokesmen not for a particular business but for 
an entire industry or for business in general. And the quicker 
ones learn in good time that the gratuities that may be accepted 
in state politics (all forty-eight governors gratefully accepted 
bolts of vicuna from Bernard Goldfine) can get a man in serious 
trouble in Washington. In Adams' case, quite evidently, no such 
change occurred. This could be because he is an excessively pro 
vincial man and an excessively insensitive one. He has been one of 
the largest figures in the administration right from the start, 
but the conditions of his work and the austerity of his life may 
have made it impossible for him to appreciate that Washington 
is different from Concord in fundamental ways. He has been un 
accountable not only to Congress but to the press and to other 
members of the administration. He has worked behind closed 
doors in the White House and, as the President's accredited 
deputy, has had everyone except Eisenhower himself come to him 
when he called. So far as is known, his off-duty life has not been 
a broadening one; he has always been thought of as a Yankee 
villager who kept Epworth League hours, except on choir-re 
hearsal nights, and few things have been more surprising to his 
colleagues about the recent revelations than that he had so gay 
and worldly a friend as Bernard Goldfine and that he frequented 

161 White Mountaineer 

such places as the Carlton, the Sheraton-Plaza and the Waldorf- 
Astoria. The general belief even now is that these were novel 
associations for him and that their very novelty and glamour 
blinded him to the consequences of enjoying them. The cruel 
word "hick" has been a good deal used in discussions of the 
mystery of his behavior. It was surely a countryman speaking 
when his first response to the charge that he had received an 
800 coat was that this was untrue because he had looked into 
the matter and found that its real value was $69. 

Yet the mystery is not dissolved by any amount of digging into 
Adams* past or by speculations about his life in Washington. 
He had, after all, assimilated enough of the spirit and rhetoric 
of political uplift to make acceptable speeches and to register 
hot indignation when other men embarrassed the White House 
by their associations. He has been quick to learn all the other 
rules of political self-preservation. If it was mere self-righteous 
ness, a belief that it was all right for him to do what he had 
fired other men for doing, his New Hampshire canniness should 
have warned him at least to be more careful and artful than he 
was. And if, on the other hand, some Yankee-trader instinct was 
working deep within him, the concern with appearances that 
all politicians provincial or otherwise have, should have told 
him that this would at least look bad and that by far the better 
deal, in the long run, would be to pass up the opportunities his 
friendship with Goldfine afforded. His needless, pointless fall 
from grace is easily the most baffling problem in political be 
havior to come along in years. 



MOST OF Sherman Adams' First-Hand Report is not first-hand at 
all, but second- or third-hand. Adams recounts at length crucial 


events in which he had little or no part the Suez crisis, Dien- 
bienphu, the Bermuda Conference of 1953, the Geneva Confer 
ence of 1955, and the recurrent alarms over Quemoy and Matsu 
and his reports appear to benefit very little from his intimacy 
with the President. It seems, on first thought anyway, odd that 
this man, whose talent was narrowly executive and whose com 
petence, so far as is known, was limited to insular affairs, should 
now be so preoccupied with matters of high policy abroad. But 
perhaps it is not so odd: these were the memorable affairs, and 
it may well be that if he had stuck to matters he knew intimately, 
he would have been writing almost exclusively about trivialities. 
Even in those days when everyone in Washington spoke of him 
as the power behind the throne and the closest thing to a deputy 
President in American history, it was difficult to learn or even 
to imagine exactly what he did with his time. Here and there, 
the suspicion grew that his work might not be as demanding and 
as important as it was said to be. The Goldfine affair and the 
other difficulties that led to his departure, in 1958, strengthened 
this suspicion. A power behind the throne who had time to stop 
by the Carl ton in midafternoon; who was frequently on the 
telephone discussing the affairs of nonscheduled airlines, textile 
manufacturers, and television operators in provincial cities; and 
who ran up sizable bills at the Sheraton-Plaza, in Boston, obvi 
ously was not burning himself out as a Richelieu. Adams' book 
is not of much help in explaining his role. In a chapter called 
"At Work in the White House/' he remarks that he could not 
sit in on many of the discussions of policy "that Eisenhower 
wanted me to attend" because "I had too many telephone calls, 
too much paperwork, and too many appointments at my own 
office, as well as a White House staff to supervise," He goes on 
to say, "Somebody who made a count of such things once esti 
mated that my outgoing and incoming telephone calls were usu 
ally 250 a day and that figure was probably not far from right." 
It sounds quite far from right. At two minutes a call, with no 
rest at all for voice and ears, he would have been on the phone 
for more than eight hours and would never have made the 
Carlton or got much paperwork done. Still, the record does show 

163 White Mountaineer 

that he was on the telephone quite a bit. But the importance of 
it all is another matter. Adams could not have thought it alto 
gether vital to the welfare of the administration, for he says that 
after a year at the White House he was offered a job that paid 
better money and was eager to take it. "I talked to the President 
about it, reminding him that he had often urged us to speak up 
If any opportunity came along that we felt, for our own economic 
security, ought not to be turned down." Eisenhower remembered, 
and was ready to let Adams go if Henry Cabot Lodge could be 
persuaded to stop arguing with Andrei Vishinsky and become 
the new power behind the throne. Adams knew then what Eisen 
hower was to learn that Lodge was having a great time in New 
York and could not be talked into helping the President run 
the country from Washington. "I was sure," Adams writes, "that 
Lodge, if he could help it, would have nothing to do with scrub 
bing the administrative and political backstairs as I was doing at 
the White House/' 

Adams' memoir is rough going most of the way. Its length is 
excessive, its tone is flat, its detail is boring and mostly insignif 
icant, its revelations are depressing. Still, it does contain revela 
tions most of them, one suspects, unintentional. Adams says 
of Eisenhower that "temperamentally, he was the ideal Presi 
dent/* But Adams plainly understands that temperament is not 
everything. Even what Adams considers an ideal one was no 
defense against na"ivet< and lack of firmness. Adams knew that 
the President was kidding himself in thinking for a moment that 
Lodge would go backstairs in the White House, and he knew 
that the President was naive about many other things. So did 
others in the administration. When it was pointed out that re 
strictions sought by business in our trade arrangements with 
the Japanese might drive the Japanese into deals with Peking, 
Eisenhower (according to Adams) asked George Humphrey if 
American businessmen might "make some sacrifices in such a 
situation in the interests of world peace." "No," Humphrey re 
plied. "The American businessman believes in getting as much 
as he can while the getting is good." The President accepted 
this judgment but said "seriously," according to Adams 


"Maybe that's the trouble with businessmen, George." Adams' 
Eisenhower is an almost hopeless idealist surrounded by men 
with a superior knowledge of the world. Senators Taft, Know- 
land, and Styles Bridges, the Secretary o Defense, the Secretary 
of State, and half the rest of the Cabinet were always setting him 
straight about the realities of life and about the impossibility of 
fulfilling his pleasant hopes. Adams speaks of Everett Dirksen, 
the last of Eisenhower's three leaders in the Senate, who had 
"with considerable political gallantry come around to accept 
more and more of Eisenhower's views and solutions to major 
foreign problems." When such considerable gallantry was lack 
ing, as it was most of the time, Eisenhower did nothing. "Before 
I worked for him," Adams writes, "I assumed Eisenhower would 
be a hard taskmaster. . . . But he seldom called anybody down 
when he was displeased with his work and I never knew him 
to punish anybody. . . . Though contrary to his nature, a 
tougher . . . line would have brought better results." Adams 
mentions only two cases in which Eisenhower took a real stand 
with Congress. One was in backing up his Secretary of Agri 
culture. "If I can't stick with [Ezra Taft] Benson," Adams reports 
the President said, "I'll have to find some way of turning in my 
own suit, or 111 just be known as a damned coward." The other 
was his announcement of his intention to prevent any Demo 
cratic attempt to enlarge the Tennessee Valley Authority. "It's 
time to stop being bulldozed!" he said. The President felt no 
call to valor in the matter of Senator McCarthy's bulldozing, and 
Adams says that, as a matter of principle, Eisenhower "did not 
make a decision, or take a public stand on an issue, when it was 
not necessary." It was on this account that he did not make firm 
statements on several aspects of racial integration. The President 
was intermittently aware of the pain he gave his party comrades 
by the positions he chose to defend and by those he chose to leave 
undefended, and he could be hurt by the lack of respect accorded 
his judgment. Adams recalls Eisenhower's reactions after a Re 
publican strategy meeting in Denver in 1952: "When Humphreys 
[Robert Humphreys, a National Committee public-relations man] 
finished with the presentation, Eisenhower said nothing. I could 

16^ White Mountaineer 

see that beneath his usual outward composure something had 
annoyed and upset him. I asked Mm later what had bothered 
him, 'All they talked about was how they would win on my 
popularity/ he said. 'Nobody said I had a brain in my head.' " 
The most interesting sections are those on the President and 
his first Secretary of State. "In the quiet of Eisenhower's home," 
Adams writes, without saying how he knew what went on there, 
"Dulles had talked about [their] relationship before they had 
begun their official association. 'With my understanding of the 
intricate relationships between the peoples of the world and your 
sensitiveness to the political considerations involved, we will 
make the most successful team in history/ " It is hard to believe 
that Dulles actually dared to put it this way (it was close to 
saying "with my brains and your popularity"), but it is easy to 
believe that he thought of it this way. By Adams' account, 
Eisenhower feared the consequences of Dulles but hesitated to 
restrain "the best Secretary of State he ever knew/ " "Eisenhower, 
of course, was well aware that his own approach to foreign prob 
lems was far more conciliatory than Dulles's. . . . Dulles was 
readier to fight for Quemoy and Matsu than Eisenhower was/' 
Eisenhower tried to assert his own views through other people. 
He had C. D. Jackson, Harold Stassen, and Nelson Rockefeller 
working on psychological warfare and disarmament. Dulles 
couldn't abide any of them and eventually got the President to 
drop them. At Geneva in 1955, while Eisenhower was talking up 
Rockefeller's "open skies" scheme, Dulles "passed the word to his 
staff that he wanted disarmament talks 'closed out quietly/ " 
Dulles, of course, wished that Eisenhower himself would stay out 
of diplomacy. Adams writes, "When Eisenhower's Paris summit 
conference with Khrushchev collapsed in 1960, I could hear 
Dulles saying, 'Now do you see what I mean?* " Not long after 
the Paris disaster, Adams came down from Franconia Notch for 
a reunion with Eisenhower at Newport, Rhode Island, "Foster 
Dulles's opposition to what he regarded as foredoomed summit 
conferences now takes on more aspects of wisdom/' he observed 
to Eisenhower. 'Tester Dulles was a great man/' the President 
said. "Foster had one g^reat quality somebody could disagree 


with him violently but he never bore any ill feeling after the 
argument was over." 3 * It is doubtful if this really was Dulles's 
most striking or most admirable quality, but it was one that the 
most amiable of Presidents rated highly indeed. 

* In the summer of 1961, Drew Pearson had an interview with Nikita 
Khrushchev, who, according to Pearson, said, "I came to have admiration for 
Dulles before he died. He could disagree with you, but you knew exactly 
where he stood/ 1 

The Importance of George Orwell 


THE LATE George Orwell was a novelist, a journalist, an essayist, a 
literary critic, a political polemicist, an occasional poet, and a 
man whose mark on Ms contemporaries was and is large and 
clear and good. He was central to Ms time, which is our time 
from the late twenties to the fifties and into the plausible terrors 
of Nineteen Eighty-Four. 

He was born in India in 1903 and died in England in 1950, of 
a lung ailment contracted in childhood. George Orwell was a 
pen name he took in 1934; he had been christened Eric Blair. 
At the time of Ms death, he had been a writer for less than twenty 
years, and for almost half of that period he had been quite ob 
scure. Nevertheless, it is difficult to call to mind any figure of 
the twentieth century, apart from the seminal thinkers like 
Freud and Dewey and the literary innovators like Joyce and 
Eliot, whose inluence has been as sharp and visible and cleansing 
as Orwell's. In the closing years of his life, when Animal Farm 
and Nineteen Eighty-Four were being read everywhere, the world 
had a sense of him as a prophet. Animal Farm was published here 
in 1946 (many publishers rejected it on the ground that it would 
have a disturbing influence on Soviet-American relations), and 
I do not think it would be going too far to say that it did as 
much to clear the air as Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain** 
speech of the same year an oratorical salvo often cited by his 
torians as the starting point of Western resistance to Soviet im 
perialism. By 1949, when Nineteen Eighty-Four appeared, Or 
well was by no means a lonely prophet; by then, the wilderness 
was full of voices. But Orwell's had a stunning clarity and edge. 


Anyone could see the flower of totalitarianism in Stalin's Russia 
or Stalin's Poland or Stalin's Czechoslovakia. It took Orwell to 
uncover the living roots of totalitarianism in contemporary 
thought and speech, in the puritanism of civic virtue, in our 
slackening of ties with the usable past, in cravenness before the 
gods of security, in mass entertainment's deadening of impulses. 
He put Newspeak and Doublethink into the language, and our 
habits of speech and thought are the better for this. If we and 
our offspring never have to endure Nineteen Eighty-Four, we and 
they will have Orwell partly to thank. 

Nineteen Eighty-Four was a dazzling illumination, and I sup 
pose that for most people it will always be the first thing to 
spring to mind whenever Orwell's name is mentioned just as 
most of us, in free association, would respond to "Swift" with 
"Gulliver's Travels." Yet it was not Orwell's first illumination 
but his last. Years earlier, even before Animal Farm had won 
him his first really wide circle of readers, he had exerted a 
liberating and strengthening influence on a whole generation of 
writers and intellectuals. That generation, of which I am a mem 
ber, knew him first as a journalist. In my own case, I did not 
even know that he had written any fiction until some time after 
I read his political and literary criticism. (A few of his early 
novels were published here in the early thirties, but they at 
tracted little attention and quickly went out of print. They were 
not reissued until 1950 or after.) I think my own awareness of 
him must date from late 1939 or *&ore probably early 1940; in 
any case, I knew enough about him by 1941 to go to some lengths 
to get hold of a copy of The Lion and the Unicorn, a wartime 
study of English life and ideals that has never been published 
here. Orwell was a socialist when he wrote it, as he was to the day 
of his death, and the book may justly be regarded as a piece of 
socialist literature, though it spends less time telling how social 
ism might improve England than how England might improve 

I followed The Lion and the Unicorn with Homage to Cata 
lonia and all the fugitive pieces, in English periodicals and in 
Partisan Review, that I could lay hands on. It was OrwelFs view 
of any particular question that made his work as a journalist so 

i$9 The Importance of George Orwell 

exciting and Ms example as a writer so bracing to his colleagues. 
Nor was it merely the verve and acuity of Ms writing, though this 
was indeed part of it: quite apart from any special tendencies 
of his thinking, he was a magnificent performer. But the im 
portant and stirring thing was the way he coupled contempt for 
all the "smelly little orthodoxies" of his time with a continuing 
interest in ideas and a decent respect for the opinions of man 
kind. He was free, on the one hand, of pieties of any sort and, 
on the other, of flippancy. He was at once responsible and abso 
lutely independent, and this in a day when responsibility and 
independence were customarily disjoined. He fused a moral com 
mitment with a fiercely critical mind and spirit, and if today 
there are more writers who approach this ideal than there were 
twenty years ago, it is largely because they have profited by his 
precepts and have been moved by the magnificent gesture of his 

Orwell was a writer of great force and distinction. He would 
be remembered today if he had been only a journalist and critic. 
But he was far more; he was among other things, though cer 
tainly first among them an artist, and a many-sided one. The 
thrust of his moral imagination has been felt by all those who 
read Nineteen Eighty-Four, but that was by no means the end 
of it, nor was it the beginning. Though Nineteen Eighty-Four 
was no doubt his most important book, that work of apocalyptic 
fury did not provide the most impressive display of his gifts. 
The reader of Burmese Days and Coming Up for Air,, which 
seem to me the two most successful of his early novels, will dis 
cover that his imagination was more than moral. He could deal 
superbly with the individual consciousness and with the inter 
course of character. He could be wonderfully evocative of moods 
and times and scenes and conditions of life. No one who has seen 
anything of England or encountered any members of the British 
lower middle class can miss the verisimilitude of Coming Up for 
Air. We have it on excellent authority that Burmese Days is as 
sensitive a rendering of Indian and Anglo-Saxon life; in any 
case, it could scarcely be more memorable. I would rank Down 
and Out in Paris and London with these two novels if I did not 
think It too directly autobiographical and reportorial a work to 


be described as a novel at all; whatever Its category, It Is a match 
lessly vivid description of the life of poverty and unemployment 
and squalor. It is Impossible to read the plongeur passages with 
out having the sensation of gray soapy water sloshing about the 
arms up to the elbow. Though Orwell's bent was for such 
description and for a manner that is ironical, astringent, and 
detached, he could on occasion be lyrical and quite astonishingly 
tender, as one may learn from the sections on Tubby Bowling's 
boyhood in Coming Up for Air or from the haunting and pa 
thetic scenes between Julia and Winston in Nineteen Eighty- 

In all of his novels, including those that might, on balance, be 
described as failures, one feels oneself always in the presence of 
a writer who is fully alive and has eyes and an intellect and a 
vibrant character of his own. The conventions of criticism de 
mand, I suppose, that he be placed as a "minor" novelist. He 
was not in any crucial sense an innovator, and he did not pene 
trate the mysteries to the depths reached by Dostoevski or Con 
rad. He did not people a world as Balzac did though one has 
the feeling that something like this would have been within his 
powers if he had devoted himself entirely to fiction or if he had 
lived and written longer. He was of the second rank, but he was 
never second-rate, and to my mind and taste the distinction is 
anything but invidious. All of us, I think, get major satisfactions 
from certain minor novelists, and minor satisfactions from certain 
major novelists. Stendhal, for example, means less to me than 
Samuel Butler, and Orwell more than Joyce. I believe that Or 
well Is, as Irving Howe has said, "one of the few contemporary 
writers who really matter/' 

John Atkins, the author of a useful critical study of Orwell, 
has said that "his uniqueness lay in his having the mind of an 
intellectual and the feelings of a common man/' I cannot quite 
accept this, for I recognize no sentient state that can be described 
as "the feelings of a common man/' As for "the mind of an 
intellectual," that is what every intellectual has. Still, I think 
Atkins is reaching for a central truth about Orwell and one that 
is not easy to grasp. Perhaps one could say that his uniqueness lay 
to some degree in his almost studied avoidance of the unique. 

iji The Importance of George Orwell 

The experience he chose to deal with was the kind of experience 
known to large numbers of people, to whole social classes, to 
entire nations. He did not often concern himself with the single 
Instance. As a novelist, he was rather old-fashioned in the sense 
that he did not explore the extremes of behavior. The merely 
anomalous, the merely phenomenal, the exotic, the bizarre none 
of these attracted his interest very much. In fact, the most obvious 
and persistent of his faults was an intolerance of eccentricity and 
neurosis. As a critic, he was rather old-fashioned in the sense that 
he paid the most attention to books that have been read by 
millions and left to other critics those works of genius that are 
admired chiefly In genius circles. It was Dickens and Kipling, 
staples In a national culture, rather than, say, Henry James or 
Gerard Manley Hopkins, who drew forth his greatest critical 
efforts. He pioneered in the serious analysis of popular culture, 
writing brilliantly of "good bad" books, boys' magazines, patri 
otic verse and marching songs, penny dreadfuls, and even the 
bawdy postcards on sale at seaside resorts. In a striking essay on 
Henry Miller, which was, I think, one of his few appreciations of 
what some people would call a "coterie" writer, he found It neces 
sary to convince himself that the lives of the odd fish of whom 
Miller wrote "overlap fairly widely with those of more normal 
people/* Had he been unable to say this, *he would have been 
unable to admire Miller. 

He set great store by normality. This Is not to say that he 
despised the extraordinary or placed no value on the uncom 
mon or superior. He was an extraordinary person himself, he de 
tested conformity, and he never celebrated mediocrity. "The 
average sensual man Is out of fashion," he wrote, and he pro 
posed to restore him, giving him "the power of speech, like 
Balaam's ass" and uncovering his genius. Because we know that 
he believed there was a great deal In a name, we can assume 
that In Nineteen Eighty-Four he did not settle lightly on one 
for the central character, Winston Smith, who linked the memory 
of a most uncommon Englishman with the commonest of English 
patronymics. What Orwell cared about most deeply was the 
general quality of human experience in his time. The virtues he 
honored were the universally accessible ones candor, courage, 


love, common sense, Integrity, decency, charity. The tyrannies 
he anatomized were those that could hurt us all. 

Orwell, who was fascinated by the English class structure and 
enjoyed drawing fine distinctions of status, spoke of his own 
family as members of the "upper lower middle class." His father 
was in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service and 
was at Motihari when Orwell was born. Orwell was one of three 
children; his home life, he said, was drab, and he felt "Isolated 
and under-valued/* It Is safe to assume that he changed his name 
because he disliked the memory of the years in which he had 
borne it. He told friends that he found the name itself unpleas 
ant; he said he did not care for the Scottishness of Blair or the 
Norseness of Eric and felt more content wih a surname taken 
from an English river he had loved and a resoundingly British 
Christian name. If his home life was dreary, it was also brief. "I 
barely saw my father before I was eight," he wrote. And at eight 
he was sent to a boarding school on the South Coast, the inferior 
place he calls Crossgates in "Such, Such Were the Joys . . . ," an 
essay full of that anguishing vividness he scarcely ever failed to 
achieve. It is possible that the reality of Crossgates was not quite 
as bad as the memory of It. Cyril Connolly was there at the same 
time, and in Enemies of Promise makes the school, which he 
calls St. Wulfrlc's, sound a somewhat happier place and Orwell 
a somewhat happier boy than we find in OrwelFs account. But 
with childhood, it is always the memory that counts. At Cross- 
gates, Orwell did what was expected of him and won a scholar 
ship to Eton. He finished Eton and acknowledged in later life 
that he had rather liked the place, but he did not go on to a 
university. He thought it better to see something of "real life/' 
He went back to India and served five years in Burma as a mem 
ber of the Indian Imperial Police. He was to some extent at least 
the Flory of Burmese Days, a guilt-ridden servant and beneficiary 
of the Raj. 

In the essay "Why I Write," Orwell says that he had known 
his vocation from the age of five or six but that from the age of 
seventeen to twenty-four, a period that included all the Burma 
years, he had sought to escape it, "with the consciousness that 

/73 The Importance of George Orwell 

I was outraging my true nature." So far as I know, he never 
explained why he sought to iee what he regarded as his destiny 
or whether he had in mind some other fulfillment. As a matter 
of fact, it is difficult to find one's way about in the years between 
Eric Blair's adolescence and the emergence of George Orwell in 
1934, when he was thirty-one. His own writings are vague as to 
dates and sequences in this period. I think it is quite clear, 
though, that he was a young man who suffered a good many 
torments of mind and spirit. His attempt to avoid writing could 
have resulted from an admixture of insecurity, or fear of failure, 
and self-denial. There are traces of Calvinist asceticism all 
through his work. At any rate, not long after his return from 
Burma, he entered upon the mortification of the flesh that pro 
vided him with the materials for Down and Out in Paris and 
London. He sought out poverty, whether to write about it or 
merely to suffer It we cannot tell. "What I profoundly wanted at 
that time," he wrote several years later, in The Road to Wigan 
Pier,, "was to find some way of getting out of the respectable 
world altogether." But why did he seek out misery? Why did he 
embrace poverty Instead of Bohemia? John Atkins has said that 
the moment Orwell thought of anything beyond endurance, he 
put himself to the test of enduring It. I think there Is something 
to this. It was compulsive behavior, almost masochistic in char 
acter, and it makes Orwell's retention of Independence and cool 
judgment all the more Interesting and all the more Impressive. 
The most powerful critic of fanaticism in our time was a man 
who had a good many fanatical impulses. 

He has said that he spent about two years In all In the lower 
depths of Paris and London. It is hard to tell whether or not 
this was one continuous experience. At some point between 1928 
and 1934, he taught school for a while, and at another time he 
worked as a clerk in a bookshop. After 1933, there are few un 
certainties. In that year, his first journalism began to appear 
articles and reviews under the name of Eric Blair in Adelphi and 
other magazines. Down and Out was published in 1933 and 
Burmese Days In 1934, when he became Orwell. His surrender to 
destiny was now complete. He did a book a year for several years, 
in addition to the newspaper and magazine work that kept him 


alive. After Burmese Days, there were three more books dealing 
with poverty. A Clergyman's Daughter , published In 1935, and 
Keep the Aspidistra Flying, published In 1936, are novels of 
English life. They have their particular distinctions the Tra 
falgar Square scene from A Clergyman's Daughter may well be 
the finest thing in all of OrwelFs fiction but they are not his 
best work. In them, however, one can trace his growing concern 
with politics and his drift toward socialism. He was a socialist 
by the time he did the fourth of his books on poverty, The Road 
to Wigan Pier, which was published in England in 1937 and 
has not yet been published in this country,* doubtless because, 
being largely a factual report on the mining communities of 
South Wales In the worst part of the depression, it has been 
thought to have too antiquarian a flavor. But then the bubonic 
plague of which Defoe and Pepys wrote had lost a good deal of Its 
topicality, and Orwell on life In Swansea and Wigan and New 
castle in 1936 seems to me fully the peer of Defoe and Pepys on 
London in 1664. 

The Road to Wigan Pier is a masterpiece. It is also a basic 
document in the intellectual history of this century. The book 
had been commissioned by Victor Gollancz, the publisher, on 
behalf of the Left Book Club, an organization whose tendency 
is evident in its title, as a study of human misery In an exploita 
tive social order. The first half is exactly that. Orwell was never 
more brilliant as a journalist. The second part is an examination 
of socialism as a remedy. It was perhaps the most rigorous exami 
nation that any doctrine has ever received at the hands of an 
adherent. It was so tough, so disrespectful, so rich in heresies that 
Gollancz, who, as proprietor of the Left Book Club was the 
shepherd of a flock that scandalized as easily as any Wesleyan 
congregation, published the book only after writing an introduc 
tion that could not have been more strained and apologetic if 
he had actually been a Wesleyan minister who for some Improb 
able reason found himself the sponsor of a lecture by George 
Bernard Shaw on the Articles of Religion. Gollancz's plight was 
in some respects even more difficult than that hypothetical one, 

* Since this piece was written, Wigan Pier has been published in the 
United States by Haicourt, Brace & World in 1958. 

175 2"^* Importance of George Orwell 

since it was necessary for him to concede that the early chapters 
"really are the kind of thing that makes converts." 

In discomfiting his fellow socialists as he did, Orwell per 
formed, for the first time, what was to become his characteristic 
service to his generation. In 1956, I find it rather awkward 
indeed, I find it downright embarrassing to have the responsi 
bility of explaining exactly what this service was. For it was 
really nothing more or less than clearing minds of cant, and the 
service should never have been necessary in the first place. It 
has to be understood that the typical intellectual of the thirties 
was a man so shocked by social injustice and the ghastly spectacle 
of fascism that his brain was easily addled by anyone who pro 
posed a quick and drastic remedy. The humanistic mind in those 
days was poorly equipped to deal with social and political ideas, 
and grappled with them almost as awkwardly as in recent years 
it has grappled with the problems of nuclear physics. We tend 
now to recall Communism as the only brain-addler of the period, 
but there were others. Non-Communist liberalism had a way 
of stiffening into illiberal orthodoxies, as did pacifism. Fascism 
itself won over a few essentially humanistic intelligences, and 
so did extreme conservatism. Almost at the onset of social and 
political consciousness, intellectuals surrendered their critical 
faculties. Many of them thought they had excellent reasons for 
doing so. It was perfectly obvious, they would argue, that the 
conditions that cried out for change would not be changed by 
individuals. Still less would they be changed by acts of cerebra 
tion. They would be changed only by the action of large numbers 
of people by parties, by armies, by collectivities of one sort or 
another. Parties and armies require discipline. Discipline neces 
sarily calls for a ceding of rights and privileges. Ergo> for the 
benefit of mankind, for the prisoners of starvation, for the 
greatest good of the greatest number, for the Cause, it is necessary 
to give up the right to be critics, iconoclasts, Bohemians, indi 

It can be objected, I know, that I am only describing a species 
of conformity and that conformity continues to be quite a prob 
lem. Certainly it does, and that is one of the reasons why Orwell 
is needed today. But today's conformity is one of assent, and 


I am talking about a conformity of dissent, which is in many 
ways a more terrible thing. Twenty years ago, it was the critics 
of society who allowed their critical powers to atrophy; it was 
the independent-minded who threw away their independence. 
W. H. Auden, the poet of the decade, wrote the apologia in a 
quatrain that stands as the dedication to Erika Mann in On This 
Island, published in 1937, the Wigan Pier year: 

Since the external disorder, and extravagant lies 
The baroque frontiers, the surrealist police; 
What can truth treasure, heart bless, 
But a narrow strictness? 

To some of us, it seemed a compelling and quite lovely bit of 
poet's logic. To Orwell, it was a non sequitur illogical and un 

Orwell arrived on the scene in the middle thirties and pro 
ceeded to fire the camps of the orthodox wherever he found 
them. How he came to this role is, I think, quite a mystery. His 
acquaintance with social and political ideas and practices was, 
if anything, even slighter than that of most of his contemporaries, 
and there were, as I have suggested, aspects of his temperament 
that seemed to make him rather a promising candidate for 
fanaticism. Nevertheless, he stood almost alone in his generation 
as a man of consistent good judgment and as one who never for 
a moment doubted that it was possible to be at once humanistic 
and tough-minded, to make commitments and avoid the perils 
of commitment. He was no less shocked by social injustice and 
fascism than the next man. He had known poverty and had 
written four books on it, at least two of which, Down and Out 
and Wigan Pier, are classics. He saw the point about parties and 
armies and took more than his share of responsibilities. For all 
his heresies as a socialist, he was no stranger to the grubbiest of 
political chores, and in 1936 he went to Spain and bore arms 
against fascism an experience that led to another classic, Hom 
age to Catalonia. He was not, of course, alone in seeing the perils 
of Commitment, but most of the others who saw the perils either 
withdrew their commitments or made silly counter-commitments. 
Orwell did neither. He felt that withdrawal was out of the ques- 

IJ7 The Importance of George Orwell 

tlon "unless you are armored by old age or stupidity or hypoc 
risy." But of the committed writer he said, "His writings, in so 
far as they are to have any value, will always be the product 
of the saner self that stands aside, records the things that are 
done and admits their necessity, but refuses to be deceived as 
to their true nature." He was seldom deceived as to the true 
nature of anything. 

"He was the conscience of his generation," V. S. Pritchett said, 
meaning, of course, his generation of writers. Up to 1945, he 
was very little known in this country, and his British audience 
was pretty well limited to the readers of the weeklies and 
monthlies of opinion. He was becoming established as a critic 
and journalist when he went to Spain. He was wounded in the 
neck and hospitalized in L^rida; he had joined the P.O.U.M., 
which opposed the Communists and was critical of the Popular 
Front government from a more or less Trotskyist point of view, 
and he left Spain with some difficulty and with a price on his 
head. He published Homage to Catalonia in 1938: though it was 
a passionately Loyalist book, it gave as great offense to the pas 
sionate Loyalists as Wigan Pier had given to socialists and Com 
munists, and by the time of his death had sold only nine hundred 
copies. From 1938 to the middle years of World War II, he had 
a difficult time of it; he was held in great admiration by people 
whose admiration was worth having, but partly because of his 
political views and partly because of the general dislocations of 
the period he had little work and little sense of function. He 
wanted to join the army, but the army would not have him. In 
1939, he published Coming Up for Air, and in 1941 The Lion 
and the Unicorn, but these did little to help keep him alive or 
relieve his sense of frustration. He served in the Home Guard, 
did occasional scripts for the British Broadcasting Corporation, 
and wrote brilliantly from London for the Partisan Review in 
New York. It was not until fairly well along in the war that he 
attracted a sizable British audience for his periodical writing, 
most of which appeared in the Laborite Tribune. His tubercu 
losis, which he never seems to have done much about, had 
progressed during the war; it was in an advanced and incurable 
state by 1945, so that for the short period in which he had 


a large number of readers, from the publication of Animal Farm 
until his death in a sanatorium a few months after the publica 
tion of Nineteen Eighty -Four, life held many agonies and few 
rewards. He once said that Nineteen Eighty-Four would have 
been a less bleak and bitter book if he had not been a dying man 
when he wrote it. 

In the past decade, critics in large numbers have been drawn 
to OrwelFs work and have found him for the most part a thorny 
problem. The truth is that his work does not much lend itself to 
theirs. His novels were direct and fairly simple narratives in an 
old tradition. Their meanings are mostly on the surface. Orwell 
posed no riddles, elaborated no myths, and manipulated no 
symbols. Even Nineteen Eighty-Four offers limited possibilities 
for exegesis. One need only be alive in the twentieth century to 
grasp its significance. There is not much to do with OrwelFs 
novels except read them. Nor is there much to be said about his 
style. It was colloquial in diction and sinewy in construction; 
it aimed at clarity and unobtrusiveness and achieved both. Cyril 
Connolly once performed an experiment by scrambling some 
sentences of Orwell's with some of Ernest Hemingway's and some 
of Christopher Isherwood's. He defied the reader to tell the 
writers one from another and argued that, since identification 
was impossible, all writers who strive for the colloquial throw 
away a good part of their heritage as writers. He felt that those 
who worked in a Mandarin Dialect those, that Is, who strove 
for elegance of phrase and exquisiteness of texture were at least 
using all the resources of their language, while those who worked 
in what he called the New Vernacular needlessly confined them 
selves to a narrow range of rhythms and tones. I think Connolly 
was wrong in saying that his three novelists could not be told 
apart and wrong in his dispraise of colloquialism. But beyond 
saying that Orwell's was simply the style most commonly used in 
modern English and American writing and that Orwell em 
ployed it with great vigor, there is really not a great deal for 
a critic to say. A writer of Orwell's sort does not give the modern 
critic much of a chance to draw upon his imposing collection of 
critical utensils and contrivances. 

ij$ The Importance of George Orwell 

In consequence, there has been a search for the sources of 
Orwell's strength In Orwell's character. No doubt that is where 
the sources are to be found; le style est I'homme meme, and so 
forth. But It cannot be said that the search has been very pro 
ductive. What nearly everyone seems to find In Orwell Is recti 
tude and more rectitude. Lionel Trilling has said that the 
profoundest statement he ever heard about Orwell came from a 
college student who said: "He was a virtuous man/* John Atkins 
has said, "The common element In all George Orwell's writing 
was a sense of decency." Atkins also calls him a "social saint." 
The idea of salntliness turns up everywhere; there Is a touch 
of hagiography even In the arguments directed against It. Irving 
Howe, poking fun at the "old maids of criticism, hunting for 
stray bits of morality as If they were pieces of tatting left In the 
parlor" and pointing out that Orwell himself had said that 
"sainthood is a thing human beings must avoid," has ventured 
the opinion that Orwell was a "revolutionary personality." But 
what Is that except another term, one with secular and socialist 
overtones, for a saint? A "revolutionary personality" is what the 
Ethical Culturist calls Jesus Christ. 

Orwell was an uncommonly decent person, and his moral and 
physical courage survived many hard tests. He was not a saint, 
or even saintly. I do not think he was any more virtuous or de 
cent than his contemporaries. What Is probably behind the use 
of these terms Is a confusion of the prophet and the saint that 
and an appreciation of the fact that Orwell saw through all the 
pretenses of his time and never made a fool of himself. None of 
this really has much to do with personal "goodness." On the con 
trary, there is often a rather direct and visible relationship 
between folly and purity of spirit. We all know about the paving 
stones on the read to hell. "The surrendering and humbling of 
the self breed pride and arrogance," Eric Hoffer has written, and 
of course pride and arrogance breed folly. The obverse of this Is 
the old set-a-thlef-to-catch-a-thief principle. It takes a certain 
amount of wickedness to understand the mechanics of wickedness 
as Orwell did and to perceive that "the essence of being human Is 
that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing 
to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push 


asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse im 
possible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and 
broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's 
love upon other individuals/' I think it clear that Orwell's asceti 
cism furnished him with a knowledge of the point to which asceti 
cism should not be pushed and that his impulse toward fanaticism 
furnished him with a comprehension of it and a determination 
to resist it. Naturally, there was more than that to it, else he 
would have succumbed to impulse. 

In any event, Orwell had his share of wickedness. He could 
say cruel things and his fairness of judgment did not always 
extend to individuals. He called Kipling a "gutter patriot" and 
W. H. Auden a "gutless Kipling." (He could be remorseful, too; 
he publicly apologized for this characterization of Auden.) His 
judgments were not always as charitable as they were sound; 
there was a bit more to be said for the radical intellectuals of the 
thirties than he could find it in his heart to say. I do not see 
how, on logical grounds alone, he could be as indulgent as he 
was toward P. G. Wodehouse and at the same time as bitter about 
the liberals and radicals, to whom he had a way of referring as 
"the pansy left." Standing alone, his plea for Wodehouse would 
have seemed an act of generosity and understanding. But it seems 
only fair that if one is going to excuse Wodehouse for allowing 
himself to be exploited by the Nazis, one should be approxi 
mately as forgiving to those who allowed themselves to be 
exploited by the Communists. Orwell was quite frequently un 
fair in this way, but his unfairness flowed not, I think, from 
self-righteousness but from ill-temper, from his passion for the 
truth, and, part of the time, from his use of overstatement as a 
device of rhetoric. His choler and intemperance had something 
in common with that of Dr. Johnson and with that of the author 
of Gulliver's Travels, of whom he once wrote: "Politically, Swift 
was one of those people who are driven into a sort of perverse 
Toryism by the follies of the progressive party of the moment." 
It was Orwell's distinction that the follies of his friends never 
drove him to abandon them, but now and then he did manage to 
sound like the spokesmen for a perverse Toryism. 

Orwell, thank God, was no saint. He was burdened by no 

iBi The Importance of George Orwell 

excess of purity. I do not think it within the province of the critic 
to determine what properties of the pneuma account for what 
we find in a man's work. It should be enough that we find some 
thing to which we can respond and that we seek to understand 
what it is that moves us. In Orwell, we find a mind that did not 
have to be cleared of cant because it evidently had none to begin 
with. He had sense and sensibility, a love of language, a nose 
for fraud, a hunger for truth, a resolute heart, a robust and 
inquiring intellect, and whatever it is that makes a man an artist. 

Arthur Hays Vandenberg: New Man in 
the Pantheon 


DEAN ACHESON has lately reminded us of the eminence of Arthur 
H. Vandenberg, a Republican Senator from Michigan from 1928 
until his death in 1951. "Without Vandenberg in the Senate/' 
Acheson writes in Sketches from Life of Men I Have Known, 
"the history of the postwar period might have been very differ 
ent." Quite probably this is so. Acheson goes on: "Vandenberg 
stands for the emergence of the United States into world power 
and leadership, as Clay typified the growth of the country; 
Webster and Calhoun the great debate of the ante-bellum days; 
and Robert M. LaFollette the turbulence of the Progressive Era." 
This puts him in fast company, but perhaps he belongs there. 
He performed, according to Acheson, "a service for which this 
country should forever be grateful." 

Vandenberg's career was certainly an interesting and important 
one. But, as now and then happens in this world, the things that 
made it important were not the things that made it interesting. 
Vandenberg was, even by the standards his contemporaries set, a 
mediocrity. He was a nice, immensely likable mediocrity, to be 
sure, and often an entertaining one, but his only gifts of conse 
quence were for political survival, friendship, and the production 
of prose that seemed to have been influenced chiefly by Mr. 
Micawber and Sam Goldwyn. Yet there is no doubt that in Ms 
later years he performed the services of a statesman. His story 
teaches a rather stirring lesson in the political uses of rectified 
error. It was Vandenberg's conversion, in the last days of the 

jj Arthur Hays Vandenberg: New Man in the Pantheon 

last war, from isolationism to Internationalism that made him a 
large figure In the postwar world. Without Vandenberg's help, 
It Is at least conceivable that Roosevelt and Truman might have 
suffered the fate of Woodrow Wilson. Vandeoberg, a powerful 
Republican leader in 1945, supported the Democratic administra 
tions In most of our postwar policies among them, membership 
In the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic 
Treaty, the peacetime dispatch of American troops to Europe, 
and the resistance In Korea. Before and even during the war, he 
had been Isolationist. "This war Is about nothing but twenty-five 
people and propaganda," he said not too long before Pearl 
Harbor. He supported the war once we were in it, but on strictly 
nationalist grounds. He opposed the nomination of either Dewey 
or Willkie in 1944. His man was General MacArthur. But then, 
on January 10, 1945, he took the Senate fioor and said, in one 
of his typically overblown speeches, "No nation hereafter can 
immunize Itself by Its own exclusive action/* This broke the 
back of Republican isolationism In the Senate. It made Vanden 
berg a central figure in the diplomacy and politics of the years 
that remained to him. He gave the country a bipartisan foreign 
policy which Vandenberg, a compulsive tinkerer with words, 
said he preferred to describe as an "wnpartlsan policy/* (In 
earlier days, he had said, "I am more Insulatlonist than isolation 
ist. But If forced to elect between the designations Isolationist 
and internationalist, I am proudly the former/*) He could not 
have done this except as a recent convert. Dean Acheson would 
not have accredited him to the pantheon if he had been an 
Internationalist all along. 

The conversion Itself was rather a commonplace affair. If one 
wished to sail easily before the wind In 1945, one talked about 
international co-operation, the community of nations, collective 
security, the smallness and oneness of the globe, and all that sort 
of thing. For politicians, especially Republican politicians, Inter 
nationalism was the great success school of the period. The iso 
lationists, like Representative Hamilton Fish, were being voted 
or gerrymandered out of Congress. The prewar leader of the 
movement, Senator Burton Wheeler, of Montana, was in disgrace 
for having made some unsavory associations something Vanden- 


berg, incidentally, never did. Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey, 
and Harold Stassen were internationalists in one degree or an 
other and doing very well at it, while in November 1944, Senator 
Robert A. Taft, unregenerate as always, barely squeaked through 
in Ohio. Eisenhower Republicanism was in the making. Vanden- 
berg was unquestionably in earnest about seeing things in a new 
light in January 1945, but he was lucky in having come upon 
one of those delicious moments in life when self-interest and 
conviction unite in urging the same course of action. He would 
be up for re-election the following year, and both the inter 
nationalist Republicans and the Democrats would have given 
him a hard time if he had had to conduct a defensive, grousing 
campaign as an isolationist. His change of heart made him, im 
mediately, a national and international figure. He was able to 
win re-election without making a single speech or even visiting 
Michigan. He learned of his victory in 1946 while enjoying the 
amenities (he was a great one for amenities) of the Hotel Meurice 
on the Rue de Rivoli and lending powerful support to the 
Secretary of State, James A. Byrnes, in his tangles with the 
Russkis. Conversion led to a fascinating career and, it would 
seem, immortality. If he had not had his blinding illumination, 
he would be recalled today if he were recalled at all only as a 
gassy and pompous Michigan politician whose saving graces 
were an indefatigable friendliness and a talent for self-mimicry. 
He was a windbag ("What is right? Where is justice? There let 
America take her stand") who stood a certain distance apart 
from others of the breed by virtue of his joviality and sweetness 
of nature. He was one of the few men I have ever known whom 
one could describe as inoffensively pompous. For one thing, he 
was the sort of whom pomposity was expected he was big, 
fleshy, jowly, well-looked-after. For another, he was the soul of 
charity. In his diaries, which were published by his son in 1952 
as The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg, he describes his 
response to an extraordinary display of bad manners by President 
Roosevelt and some members of his family. The Senator was at a 
White House reception for the King and Queen of England. 
He had lately been making Presidential noises. When it came his 
turn to be presented to the King, Roosevelt did not introduce 

jr#5 Arthur Hays Vandenberg; New Man in the Pantheon 

him by name, as he had everyone else, but merely said, "Here's 
a chap who thinks he's going to succeed me. But he isn't/' Two 
of the Roosevelt boys, standing behind their father, doubled up 
with mirth. Vandenberg's only comment was: "I was surprised 
because the President is usually very charitable to me in his greet 
ings. Perhaps he was trying to be funny." He gave everyone the 
benefit of the doubt especially if it was possible to say they 
were trying to be funny. 

If he is to stand in history alongside the great igures of the 
second rank, he will make an odd and amusing addition to their 
company. He came to Washington in 1928 after two decades as 
a small-city newspaperman and free-lance writer. The paper was 
the Grand Rapids Herald , whose owner, and Vandenberg's pa 
tron, was William Alden Smith, himself a Senator. As a writer, 
he had turned out innumerable short stories in the Oliver Optic- 
Horatio Alger vein for Eastern magazines and three dreadful 
books about Alexander Hamilton, the best known of which is 
Hamilton: The Greatest American. He combined with his Merry 
Andrew nature a powerful hero-worshiping bent, and early in 
life, he said, he had settled on Hamilton. "He stood at my 
shoulder like a big brother in my youth," he once wrote. This 
seems, at first glance, a somewhat astonishing assertion. Hamil 
ton has not appealed to many boys. Why should the charitable, 
easygoing Vandenberg have revered a believer in the knavery 
of men? Actually, Vandenberg never grasped and never tried to 
grasp Hamilton's view of life or his place in the history of 
political theory. Of this side of Hamilton, he merely wrote: "To 
epitomize his omniscient services the contributions of a Titan 
would be impossible" and let it go at that. What he found in 
Hamilton was an absorbing rags-to-riches saga, an exciting Tat 
tered Tom or Ragged Dick story of the sort he was selling to 
Pearson's. He wrote that there is nothing in American history 
"more wonderful than the contrast between Hamilton, a friend 
less immigrant upon the docks of Boston at the tender age of 
fifteen and Hamilton, by sheer force of human intelligence, whip- 
lashing a snarling New York convention majority into unwilling 
acceptance of the Constitution at the age of thirty-one." When 
Vandenberg was appointed to the Senate in 1928, he had one 


aim he set above all others the erection on the banks of the 
Potomac of a monument to Hamilton of a tonnage equal to, or 
greater than, those that honor Washington and Lincoln. 

In his early days, and to some extent later on too, he was a 
combination hick and rou. He was a sort of Grand Rapids 
boulevardier. He seemed hardly more serious about politics than 
the Honorable Jimmy Walker, the song writer and soft-shoe 
virtuoso who, during Vandenberg's first years in the Senate, was 
mayor of New York. As a matter of fact, Vandenberg was also a 
songwriter. He was the author of a popular ballad in praise of 
the movie queen Bebe Daniels entitled "Bebe, Bebe, Bebe Be 
Mine." This was the boulevardier. The small-town boy, a harness 
maker's son, turned out editorial after editorial denouncing Sin 
clair Lewis for Elmer Gantry and wrote a lengthy commentary 
on the sordid Snyder-Gray murder case called "Sin and Justice 
Both Naked." In the great days, toward the end, he was mostly 
boulevardier. Having been a prohibitionist before Volstead and 
bone dry as long as Prohibition lasted, he became a conspicuous 
friend of the highball and a busy and quite charming ladies' 
man. When history found an important role for him, he took 
to the black Homburg as Douglas MacArthur took to gold braid 
and handled his cigar with a new elegance. He was very im 
pressive and very Senatorial in all the pictures of him talking 
things over with Anthony Eden, Guy Mollet, Trygve Lie, the 
King of Greece, and all the others. 

As a writer, he could be faulted for many things, but he had 
one endearing asset. He loved words in fact, he loved them al 
most to death. He was very proud of having been called to duty 
in the Republican campaign of 1920 and of being responsible 
for the slogan "With Harding at the helm, we can sleep nights." 
He was once asked if "Back to Normalcy" was his. "Normalcy," 
he said. "That sounds like one of my words." It surely did. A 
man responsible for "sheer magicry" might be responsible for 
anything. His love of words was of the purest, most elevated 
sort; he loved them not just for their meanings but for themselves 
alone. Who else could have come up with such phrases as "our 
mirific inheritances," "pursuant to the pattern of the rapes of 
yesterday/* "dream ourselves and others into delusions," "ex- 

x8j Arthur Hays Wandgnberg: New Man in the Pantheon 

tingulsh the jeopardy/* "marcescent monarchy/' and. "knock-out 
admonition'? He was a lover not only of words but of punctua 
tion. He worked Into everything an ungodly number of useless 
quotation marks, exclamation points, parentheses, capitalizations, 
and italics. 

I have said that he would have been forgotten but for his 
conversion in 1945- It can be argued, though, that his conversion 
was entirely predictable. He was being converted all the time. 
He could have found his way along the sawdust trail blindfolded. 
(His "favorite Biblical character/' according to his son, "was St. 
Paul, the dynamic convert to Christianity.") He came to the 
Senate a conservative. But when he ran for re-election In 1934, 
It was as a New Deal collaborationist. He had steered through 
the Federal Bank Deposit Insurance Act and took all the credit 
he could get for it. He described the Wagner Act, which he voted 
against, as "labor's hard-won bill of rights." He coined a phrase: 
"Soclal-mlndedness, not Socialism/* He wrote an article called 
"The New Deal Must Be Salvaged." ("The New Deal must be 
melted over, recast In a new engine, going slowly and rather on 
the bias In several directions/*) It is worth noting that in 1954 
he was one of two Republican Senators to make it. He picked up 
In one election as much seniority as he might normally have 
gained by winning two or three elections. 

It is Inaccurate, or at least Incomplete, to describe him as hav 
ing been, in the post-ig45 period, an Isolationlst-tumed-inter- 
nationalist; It Is more nearly accurate, though still not com 
pletely so, to describe him as an Intemationalist-turaed-isolatlon- 
Ist-tumed-Internationalist. As editor of the Grand Rapids Herald 
In 1916, he favored Intervention in Europe while Wilson and 
Hughes were dead set against it. His prose had not attained Its 
full lusciousness by then, but he was going pretty good, and he 
wrote, close to thirty years before he had his blinding vision in 
the Senate: 

One right yielded up invites the loss of a second then a third. The 

endless chain. Soon Infringements pyramid, and assailants, encouraged 
by ease of unchallenged conquests, commence to plot against the na 
tion itself. Somewhere a stand has to be made. 


Once the stand was made, the war appeared to Vandenberg as 
"the greatest revival the world has ever known since Christ came 
upon the earth." The revival spirit cooled (as it always must 
if it didn't, one revival would be enough), and by the time the 
League of Nations fight came along, Vandenberg had turned 
isolationist. This development may have had some connection 
with the fact that the owner of the paper, Senator William Alden 
Smith, took a stand against the League. Smith, a great contem 
porary of Cut-Rate Carpenter and Rise-Up William Allen, had 
not been conspicuous on any side of any issue up to 1919. His 
most famous contribution was his raising of the question, during 
the investigation of the Titanic disaster, of why the passengers 
did not climb into the watertight compartments. But the League 
of Nations somehow offended him, and he gave powerful sup 
port to Henry Cabot Lodge's fight against it. The League of 
fended Vandenberg, too, and in the days when he was pleased 
with this phase of his record he talked a lot about an interview 
he had with William Howard Taft. As an interviewer, as in all 
his other roles, Vandenberg did most of the talking, and the 
notable thing, according to him, about this encounter was that 
he talked Taft right out of opposition to the Lodge amendments 
to the League treaty and into support of them. Taft's switch, 
he always maintained, was what really defeated Wilson. Vanden 
berg also used to enjoy recalling that he made a contribution by 
supplying Lodge with the sentence: "Unshared idealism is a 
menace." Lodge used it, and it had, Vandenberg thought, great 

He was isolationist pretty much throughout the thirties. He 
cast one of the two votes against recognizing the Soviet Union. 
He was a leading participant in Senator Gerald Nye's investiga 
tion of the munitions makers. He said that testimony before this 
committee persuaded him he had been in error in 1916. He 
supported the Neutrality Act of 1937 and voted against the re 
peal of its Arms Embargo in 1939. He went through a brief but 
hot interventionist phase in the winter of 1939-40. He wanted to 
put an immediate stop to the Russian invasion of Finland, and 
he regarded the Japanese as a distinct menace. He was a sponsor 
of the Senate resolution which abrogated the Japanese trade 

i9 Arthur Hays Fandenberg: New Man in the Pantheon 

treaty of 1911 a measure described by Walter Lippmann as "the 
longest step on the road to war that the United States has taken 
since President Wilson announced . . . that the United States 
would hold the German government strictly accountable for its 
acts." It was shortly after this, however, that he entered the 
isolationist phase from which he did not emerge until 1945. 
From the fall of France to Pearl Harbor, he was against every 
thing the administration proposed. He supported the war but 
continued to be isolationist. He opposed the Ball-Burton-Hatch- 
Hill Resolution, which sought, in 1943, to commit the country 
to a postwar United Nations. Then, just before the Dumbarton 
Oaks conferences that were preliminary to the San Francisco 
meeting at which the U.N. Charter was adopted, he made the 
great speech. In his diaries, he says that he rewrote it "at least 
a dozen times." It may be that each time he rewrote it, he found 
room for one more use of the gorgeous tautology "honest can 
dor," which appears a good dozen times, now and then rein 
forced as in "honest candor devoid of prejudice or ire" and 
"honest candor on the high plane of ideals." In the speech, 
he announced that he had come to believe isolation impossible 
and he put forth a program of sorts for the disarmament of 
Germany by the victorious powers. What he had to say could 
have been said in a few simple words. But those twelve revisions 
led to the creation of a great mountain of platitudes, topped by 
glittering redundancies: 

We must have maximum Allied cooperation and minimum Allied fric 
tions. . . . We cannot drift to victory. . . . There are critical moments 
in the life of every nation. . . . We confront such a moment now. . . . 
A global conflict which uproots the earth cannot submit itself to the 
dominion of any finite mind. . . . Each of us can only speak according 
to Ms little lights and pray for a composite wisdom that shall lead us 
to high safe ground. 

This is the indispensable point Our basic pledges [the Atlantic Charter] 
cannot be dismissed as a mere nautical nimbus. They march with our 
armies. They sail with our fleets. They fly with our eagles. They sleep 
with our martyred dead. The first requisite of honest candor, I suggest, 
Mr. President, is to relight this torch. 


Our oceans have ceased to be moats which automatically protect our 
ramparts. Flesh and blood now compete unequally with winged steel. 
War has become an all-consuming juggernaut. If World War III ever 
unhappily arrives, it will open new laboratories of death too horrible 
to contemplate. I propose to do everything within my power to keep 
those laboratories closed for keeps. We stand by our guns with epic 
heroism. I know of no reason why we should not stand by our ideals. 
... I do not wish to meddle. I want only to help. I want to do my 
duty. It is in this spirit that I ask for honest candor in respect to our 

In Vandenberg's own modest words, "The electric effect of 
the speech was instantaneous/' "It cannot be said of many speak 
ers/' Walter Lippmann wrote, "that they affect the course of 
events. But this can be said of Senator Vandenberg's speech if the 
President . . . will recognize promptly and firmly its impor 
tance." Roosevelt was no slouch in this matter. He took fifty re 
prints along to Yalta and handed them out as promissory notes 
from the Republican party. The speech sent Vandenberg to the 
peaks immediately; it became practically impossible certainly 
unofficial to hold an international conference without him. 
His defection had made a repetition of 1919 impossible. If one 
can imagine the devastation that would be wrought among right- 
wingers today if Barry Goldwater defected and tagged along be 
hind Dean Rusk everywhere Rusk went, one has some picture 
of the devastation Vandenberg wrought by his famous switch. 

Dean Acheson compares his role to that of Clay and Calhoun 
in ante-bellum days. The analogy conceals the irony of the 
situation. Clay and Calhoun were great controversialists and 
they played unique historical roles. Vandenberg contributed only 
his large and amiable presence. He never really did anything. 
When he went to San Francisco, Moscow, London, Rome, 
Geneva, or Rio, his function was to weaken Republican resist 
ance in Washington and to prove to allies and adversaries that 
we had something approaching national unity in this country. 
He was a kind of property eagle. He could fulfill his function 
without opening his mouth though he generally opened it quite 
a bit. Still, many things might have been different, and worse, 
if we had not had him. 

jpz Arthur Hays Vandcnberg: New Man in the Pantheon 

The moral of the Vandenberg story can be formulated in some 
such fashion as this: It is very often better to be wrong first and 
right afterward than to have been right all along. As Scripture 
tells us, it makes a man more precious in the sight of the Lord, 
Virtue is its own reward, but there is nothing that quite matches 
the combination of virtue's reward and the wages of sin. There 
are times when uprightness has practically no meaning unless it 
rests firmly on the foundation of waywardness. Whittaker 
Chambers might have ended in the near-anonymity of the 
Time masthead if he had not been a spy; now there are those 
who think of him as a modern St. Augustine. Vandenberg, in 
his day, was far from being the only Republican internationalist 
in the Senate. To name another, there was Warren Austin, of 
Vermont. But Austin's record was grievously iawed: it contained 
no recent isolationist phases. Truman made him ambassador to 
the U.N. and he served with distinction, but there is no one to 
propose that Clay, Calhoun, Webster, and La Follette move over 
and make room for him. 

But one cannot begrudge Vandenberg his place. He would 
appreciate it greatly if he knew about it and would think of him 
self as being much closer to Big Brother Alex Hamilton. And 
his service was not small: what he did, by switching from isola 
tionism to internationalism, was to make it possible, by a process 
resembling vicarious atonement, for lots of other isolationists who 
knew, if not that they were wrong, at least that they were licked 
to make an honorable peace with the administration and thereby 
to enable the country to have something like a workable foreign 

Willkie, Another Happy Warrior 


JOSEPH BARNES' Willkie is an instrument of justice, restoring to 
its subject some of the vitality, audacity, and firmness of char 
acter that are not among the features our wayward memories 
have fixed upon. Over the years, Willkie has shrunk to a symbol 
of gullibility a windy, well-meaning, heavy-drinking promoter 
who got religion and became a sap about it, allowing himself 
to be hooked by the Stalinists into joining their mischievous 
"second front" clamor and then promoting a credulous kind of 
internationalism that, if it has not been the direct cause of any 
damage in this badly damaged world, has been of little help in 
advancing the hour of reason's triumph. Barnes rescues Willkie 
from this sour and mistaken judgment. He does not claim much 
for the "One World" phase the phase, incidentally, in which 
Barnes was most closely associated with Willkie, having made 
the global trip with him in an Air Force plane and having lent 
a hand in the composition of One World but he does consider it, 
as indeed he should, evidence that Willkie could respond to the 
largest and most humane visions of his time and do it, despite all 
his surface infelicities, with gallantry and grace. The One World 
mission and Willkie's discourses on world politics may have been 
defective in ideology, but they were beaux gestes of a sort that 
no one else was then capable of making. (Mrs. Roosevelt was his 
only rival in the field; her husband was much too canny, too 
aware of political consequences, to do or say anything he could 
not defend in terms of immediate interests, of either his party 
or his nation. It is impossible to imagine Roosevelt undertaking 
the legal defense of William Schneiderman, the California Com- 

193 Willkie, Another Happy Warrior 

munist boss whose right to citizenship Willkie gallantly upheld 
before the Supreme Court.) What was appealing about Willkie, 
what set him apart in his period, was not any doctrine or mode 
of action he stood for but the fact that there was never any 
meagemess about him. The earlier spokesmen of American 
conservatism Coolidge, Hoover, Landon, and the rest were 
shrewd, honest, and, in varying degrees, competent men, but 
the truths they perceived were mostly in the cautionary line, a 
series of "don'ts" and "bewares," Their views of life were in 
variably reductive and depreciatory; when their language showed 
any character at all, it was astringency. On most matters of sub 
stance, particularly the structure of American society, Willkie's 
outlook was about the same as theirs, but his gave the impression 
of being surrounded by plenty of light, air, and good nature. 
He was immensely likable. 

He was not a great man, but he might, if things had worked 
out a bit differently, have become one. He had courage, hope, 
energy, curiosity, gregariousness, and flexibility. These were 
things that Franklin Roosevelt had, but Willkie had, in addi 
tion, a mind that was, if not of the first order, quicker than 
Roosevelt's and better stocked; far from being intellectually lazy, 
as Roosevelt was, he had a massive hunger for knowledge and 
ideas and for the company of intellectuals. Roosevelt was the 
craftier politician and the more experienced one, but Willkie 
might in time have caught up with him. If he had had more 
seasoning in the thirties, he might very well have won the elec 
tion of 1940 and led the country through the war with Germany 
and Japan. A number of people have recently expressed the view 
that it might have been better all around if the political pendu 
lum had made shorter strokes, so that the conflict with fascism 
could have been managed by an antifascist government of the 
Right and the developing conflict with Communism led by an 
anti-Communist government of the left. But Willkie emerged 
too late and died too early for any real fulfillment. His career 
in public life lasted only four years. He will probably be remem 
bered only for the freakishness of his career because although 
he was doubly a Beelzebub in our political demonology, being 
both a Wall Streeter and a power czar, he was looked upon by 


millions as a great democratic leader; because he was a registered 
voter in one major political party only eighteen months before 
he became the Presidential candidate of the other; and for a few 
more such peculiarities. The late Harold Laski said that if a 
man like Willkie turned up in European politics, it would be a 
sure sign that the social system was about to collapse. Laski 
claimed that the entire case for the viability of our political 
system could be deduced from the facts of Willkie's career. 
Laski had a weakness for large claims. 

Still, Willkie should be remembered as more than an oddity. 
It takes no labored analysis of recent events to make clear his 
relevance to them. In thought and temperament, Eisenhower has 
no more in common with Willkie than any middle-aged Kansan 
has with any middle-aged Indianian, but Eisenhower's nomina 
tion and, even more, his election can be read as a vindication of 
Willkie's view of Republicanism and as a triumph for many 
people whose imagination Willkie was the first to fire. Except 
that Governor Dewey was a Warwick rather than a hopeful 
prince, the 1952 Republican Convention was a repeat of the 
1940 one, of which William Allen White wrote, "Taft has most 
of the kingmakers, and Willkie has most of the enthusiasm." 
Enthusiasm carried the day not because it captured the dele 
gates but because, as happened in 1952, the delegates believed it 
might capture the country. And the course of the campaign was 
strikingly like Eisenhower's. "This is not a campaign/' Willkie 
said at the outset. "It's a crusade." The crusade ended rather 
squalidly. Willkie began as the antagonist of the party regulars 
and as the candidate who would steal the enemy's thunder. He 
held that Roosevelt was, if anything, too little of an inter 
ventionist, though he expressed approval of most of the things 
Roosevelt was doing. Candor and moderation were to be the 
hallmarks of the campaign. There would be no concessions to 
expediency. "I will not talk in quibbling language," he an 
nounced. No huckstering was to be tolerated "I am purely a 
conversational farmer," he said in Rushville the day after his 
acceptance speech. "I have never done a stroke of work on a 
Rush County farm in my life, and I hope I never have to." 
But he was visited on the farm where "Louis Berkemier and 

j^5 Willkie, Another Happy Warrior 

Joe Kramer do the work/ 9 by some people who had a few things 
to explain to him, among them the fact that there was another 
man running for President. Wlllkle listened and was persuaded 
that he might do well to alter his strategy, Roosevelt's destroyers- 
for-bases deal with Churchill, which Willkie had endorsed, 
became "the most dictatorial and arbitrary act of any President 
In the history of the United States." By the time the campaign 
was over, Willkie was as much in opposition to the man he had 
been a few months earlier (and was once more to be a few 
months later) as he was- to his opponent. He reversed his field 
wherever it seemed profitable to do so, collaborated in just about 
every form of humbug that promised a vote ("I have never lost 
touch with the farm/' he began to say), and sought and made 
alliances with the people for whom he had the greatest con 

All this, of course, enabled the Democrats to say, as they have 
lately been saying of Eisenhower, that the candidate had given 
himself to his enemies In the party. Having become the piper 
for this set, he would have to pipe the tunes they called. 
The argument is an old but spurious one, and Willkie's ex 
perience is only one Instance of its falseness. After the campaign 
his dislike of those he had denied his own instincts to satisfy was 
greater by far than It had been before and greater, surely, than 
it would have been if they had left him alone. It mounted 
steadily over the years, so in the end he found It impossible to 
choose between the politicians In his party and those in Roose 
velt's, and he died without having decided whether he would 
support Roosevelt In 1944 or would take a walk. 

He died in full vigor and at the onset of what might have been 
the most productive of his several careers. Had he lived, I think 
he might have been one of the large figures of the postwar 
period. I doubt If he would have sought a Presidential nomina 
tion again (though It Is barely conceivable that the Republicans 
would have pitted him against Truman In 1948), but he would 
surely have had a lot to say about American politics, and he 
would have been heard, for his partisans were as numerous and 
as dedicated as, say, those of Adlai Stevenson. I got to know him 
rather well in the last months of Ms life and to like him 


enormously. I was a young political journalist, and he had a lot 
of ideas he wished to see in print. I spent a good many amusing 
and instructive hours in his Broad Street office drawing him out 
(it was anything but difficult to do) on his views of men and 
events. In those last months and weeks, he was filled with 
resentment and scorn of Thomas E. Dewey, who had just beaten 
him hands down for the Republican nomination, but, strangely, 
he blamed his luck not on Dewey or fate but on, of all people, 
John Foster Dulles. It pleased Willkie to think of Dewey as a 
person of no consequence whatever as, in fact, a product of 
Dulles' imagination. This conceit possessed him so that he 
elaborated it into a theory of history that made John Foster, 
Benjamin Harrison's Secretary of State and Dulles' grandfather, 
the author of the original sin. Foster had inflamed his grandson 
with the desire to be Secretary of State. To satisfy this desire, 
Dulles had first to create a President. He settled on Dewey, 
became Dewey's leading patron, financed the early Dewey cam 
paigns. In the summer and early fall of 1944, Willkie could 
believe that the worst consequences of John Foster and his 
grandson were about to be realized. (One can imagine him oppos 
ing Eisenhower eight years later and elaborating still further 
his eccentric theory of modern American history.) 

I often wish that Willkie had lived into the world of Eisen 
hower, the durable Dulles, Joseph R. McCarthy, Adlai Steven 
son, and Richard M. Nixon. Defeat had liberated him from the 
worst of his political passions as politics had earlier liberated 
him from his business past. He was growing in eloquence and 
sophistication. He was enjoying life Immensely. He had organized 
a brilliant staff, and he had, of course, the money to finance any 
activity he chose to undertake. His essential liberalism was being 
strengthened I do not think he would have been a quixotic 
one-worlder in the late forties and early fifties, but neither do I 
think he would have bought the rival brand of bologna, which 
was being peddled by dat old debbil Dulles. Whatever role he 
might have played, he would have played It with charm and 
verve and candor and generosity and a high sense of decency. 

The Interior Ickes 


THE THREE PUBLISHED VOLUMES of Harold L. Ickes' Secret Diary 
make the fullest and most Instructive of all Inside accounts of 
the Roosevelt administration. Ickes is not just one more political 
diarist, Interesting because strategically placed; he Is one of the 
great journal-keepers, In at least some respects the peer of another 
narcissistic bureaucrat, Samuel Pepys. As often as not, Ickes 
deals with matters about which most of us nowadays could not 
care less the late Ebert Burlew's opinion of the late James 
Scrugham; the politics of public housing in Lackawanna, Penn 
sylvania; the Senate vote on confirmation of a certain Hairy 
Slattery as Under-Secretary of the Interior. Frequently, of course, 
he gives us his version of some large and still meaningful event 
the recognition of the U.S.S.R., or Roosevelt's fight over the 
Supreme Court but the remote and trifling affairs far out 
number the others. Ickes, however, generates an interest in 
whatever he is writing about. He has fashioned a work that has 
some of the attributes of creatlveness. His Washington, like 
Dickens* London, Balzac's Paris, and Faulkner's Jefferson, is a 
community in which one can settle down and lead a life of 
one's own. 

It is hard to say what makes Ickes so good. As a writer, he 
lacked distinction. He had a commonplace mind, full of firmly 
held, meritorious, wholly unoriginal views. Of sensibility, he 
had none. "To contemplate nature/* he says in a passage that 
takes him as close as he ever gets to reflectiveness, "magnificently 
garbed as it is in this country, is to restore peace to the mind, 
even if it does not make one realize how small and petty and 


futile the human individual really is." He was celebrated as a 
wit, but his mots were coarse, hoked-up stuff. What is so funny 
about calling Wendell Willkie a "simple barefoot Wall Street 
boy'? This gamy line was his most admired one and, as it 
turns out, it was not even his. He got it from the newspaper 
columnist Jay Franklin. But it could have been his. Other 
admired observations were that Huey Long had "halitosis of the 
intellect" and that Thomas E. Dewey had "thrown his diaper 
in the ring." This sort of thing had doubled up his New Deal 
colleagues and got under the opposition's skin, but politicians 
are notorious for their puerile judgment and jejune tastes in 
such matters. Ickes was a gagman, and not a very good one, even 
by television standards. It is a negative virtue of the diary that 
it Is very nearly jokeless. Contrived humor takes contriving, and 
Ickes, dictating these entries at what must have been breakneck 
speed, did not have the time for it, thanks be. 

Ickes was not much of a writer, and he certainly was not 
much of a human being. Indeed, the character one encounters 
here Is so contemptible that one is forced to conclude that he 
could not possibly have been as bad as he seems. Either that, 
or he could not have seemed as bad as he was. Had he been as 
disagreeable In the flesh as he is in the diary, no one could have 
stood having him around. He was, by the testimony of these 
pages, selfish, vindictive, suspicious, servile, and disloyal. Lust 
for power ruled him. He loved no one and admired only those 
who regularly bathed him in flattery or conferred on him some 
portion of their authority. He wanted a large chunk of Henry 
Wallace's power and all he could get of Harry Hopkins', and he 
alternately praised and vilified both of them, praising when 
their resistance was low, vilifying when it was high. Since no 
one could make a career 'of gratifying Ickes, Ickes turned in the 
end against everyone. By 1936, his only remaining friend Is 
Cissy Patterson, the newspaper publisher. In the second volume, 
he breaks with her. In 1933, he wrote, "I have a feeling of loyalty 
and real affection for the President that I have never felt for any 
other man." In 1936, after Roosevelt had declined to yield to 
Ickes' latest plan for expanding the Department of the Interior, 

jp^ The Interior I ekes 

Ickes saw Roosevelt as a scoundrel. "Here Is a plain case of being 
'sold down the river' by the President/* he wrote. Ickes could 
rise ignobly above Ms feeling of betrayal. Ten days later, Roose 
velt gave him a chance to deliver an important speech. "I told 
him that I was willing to do anything that he wanted me to do," 
he wrote. He made the speech and then began to feel sorry for 
himself because he had not abandoned the administration and 
run against the President on the Republican ticket. "As I see the 
thing now," he wrote on July 21, 1936, "in all probability I 
could have won in November/' What utter madness! Some 
self-seeking romancer had told him that he would make a fine 
candidate and that the Republicans would leap at the chance to 
get him. But he was always one to adjust and readjust his ambi 
tions to the possibilities of the moment. By September, when it 
was clear that Roosevelt was no flash in the pan, Ickes was ready 
to settle down to another four years of sycophancy. He liked 
winners, and besides, J. David Stem, a White House emissary, 
had told him that "I was the outstanding man in the administra 
tion and a tower of strength to the President." 

He was over the most virulent form of Potomac fever after the 
Democratic convention of 1936, but a lower-grade infection 
struck in 1940, the year in which Roosevelt insisted upon the 
Vice-Presidential nomination for Henry Wallace. A few weeks 
before the convention he started a Vice-Presidential boom for 
himself. He tells how on July 16, 1940 a group of Connecticut 
Democrats had called upon him to discuss matters in his Chicago 
hotel room early in the convention. 

. . . They came in to discuss the Vice-Presidential situation. I told 
them all that I knew, which was nothing. They suggested that Henry 
Wallace would be a good candidate, and I agreed with them, although 
I did remark that he wasn't a particularly good campaigner and that, 
with the President tied up in Washington during the coming campaign, 
it would be necessary for our Vice-Presidential candidate to take 
Willkie on. Then [Representative William] Citron said, "I think that 
you would make a good Vice-president/* I thanked Mm. The others 
seemed to fall in with the idea and said they could deliver Connecticut 
to me. All of them demanded my autographed photograph, which I 
promised to send them from Washington. 


Some of his friends sounded out the California delegation, 
which was, according to Ickes, solidly for him, excepting only 
Representative Jerry Voorhis, the man who in 1946 was retired 
from politics by Richard M. Nixon. Voorhis was a dedicated 
liberal and one of the most intelligent men in Washington. But 
he opposed Ickes, who wrote: "Voorhis can always be depended 
upon to develop some half-baked idea. I have long held his 
judgment in contempt." Meanwhile, Roosevelt let it be known 
that he wanted Wallace, and he said he would not run if anyone 
else were nominated. The Ickes bubble burst. Governor Culbert 
L. Olson, of California, whom Ickes supposed to be the leading 
Ickes man in the convention, nominated Henry Wallace. But 
Ickes can still write, "If . . . early in the balloting a big block 
of votes had been cast for me, it is to be doubted whether Henry 
could have been nominated even with the President's support/' 
And then an absolutely extraordinary thought struck the diarist: 

It occurred to me that he [the President] might purposely be allowing 
a situation to develop in which he could with good grace decline the 
nomination. . . . Who knows but that the President could have wel 
comed this? Who can say that he forced the bitter pill of Wallace in 
the final hope that the convention would not swallow it . . . ? No? 
The whole thing is very obscure and confusing. ... I am reminded 
that Jim Farley said to me over the telephone on Thursday that he 
would listen with interest to my speeches during the campaign lauding 

There was simply no end to his pettiness and vindictiveness. 
He says of his part in a controversy with General Hugh Johnson, 
"When I did get back at him, I tried to hurt as much as I could." 
Yet his very disagreeableness throws some sharp light on affairs 
of state: 

Yesterday I got my bill from Mrs. [Cordell] Hull for my share of 
the Cabinet dinner to the President and Mrs. Roosevelt and it was 
$78.75. ... I suppose that I resent it particularly because part of this 
money was to help feed the Vice-President and the Speaker of the 
House with their respective spouses. Next year I do not intend, at 
least without protest, to permit the Hulls or anyone else to invite 
guests without my consent to a dinner at which I am a joint host. Not 

2or The Interior Ickes 

only was the dinner this year the most expensive that we have had, 
it was the poorest 

And he relates the unpleasant with a candor possessed by no 
other New Deal memoirist: 

The President told Miss [Frances] Perkins that he would be happy 
if she could discover that Boake Carter, the columnist and radio com 
mentator, who has been so unfair and pestiferous, was not entitled to be 
in this country. It appears that an investigation of his record is being 

On May 6, 1939, Idces wrote, "As I told Tom Corcoran, 
yesterday, the chances are today eighty out of one hundred that 
I will be resigning shortly. My morale is ... at such a low ebb. 
. . . For the President arbitrarily and without even discussing 
the matter with me, to deprive me of so many of the powers that 
I have exercised is bad enough but what has cut me deeply is 
the manner of his proceeding/' Ickes, who was of course the one 
man to last through all the Roosevelt administrations and into 
Truman's first, was piqued because Roosevelt had dictated some 
appointments to him. Exactly a week later, Ickes wrote: 

I lunched with the President on Thursday, and I kidded him a good 
deal about Forestry and Agriculture. Just what he will do with Forestry 
in the end I do not know, but I am going to keep after him, both 
directly and indirectly. Now that I have Fisheries and Biological Survey, 
it ought to make Forestry easier. I told him that he had made one 
great mistake; that coal was decayed vegetable matter, that it repre 
sented a chemical change in fallen trees and that trees were growing 
crops. . . . [And] I told him that in my judgement sending Rural 
Electrification to Agriculture was the same kind of mistake that had 
been made originally when the Bureau of Public Roads was set up in 
Agriculture. I pointed out that Rural Electrification involved the build 
ing of transmission lines and the selling of electric current. ... I 
think I won him pretty far over to my theory that all of the agencies 
having to do with public power, including the TVA, ought to be set 
up in one strong agency in Interior. 

It seems never to have occurred to Ickes that there was any 
thing unwholesome about has appetite for power or flattery. 


Nor, though he was ordinarily suspicious o the entire human 
race, did it ever occur to him that flatterers might be ignobly 
motivated. When Frederic A. Delano, the President's uncle, told 
him "how much he admired my ability, integrity, and intellectual 
honesty," Ickes set it down as though it were a report on weather 
conditions, a statement of plainly observable fact that no one 
could have any possible interest in misrepresenting. And again: 
"Felix [Mr. Justice Frankfurter] told me that next to the 
President I was the one man in the country who stood for a 
better civilization and whose voice carried farthest in behalf of 
a civilized way of living." It may be that the very grossness of his 
nature is one of the things that made him an exciting diarist. It 
helped him, perhaps, to order his world and bring his characters 
into a single, clear focus. The amassing of grievances, the slow 
spreading of his hatreds, give point and a kind of plot to this 
portrait of a sprawling agglomeration of people in most of whom, 
as individuals, our interest cannot be great. Each Burlew and 
each Scrugham is involved in either furthering Ickes* ambition 
or in blocking it, and we have a continuing interest in seeing 
when and for what reason they will become characters in the 
Ickes demonology. For while Ickes could bear frustration in 
great quantities, he did suffer as a result of his need to hate. He 
solicited praise and power with the brazen, businesslike air of a 
streetwalker on the prowl for clients, but he did develop a bad 
conscience about the number of people it was becoming neces 
sary to despise. He stayed awake nights thinking how terrible it 
was that there were so many ranged against him: "A heavy 
barrage is being laid down to break my morale. ... I am 
thoroughly persuaded that there is an active cabal working 
against me." He became addicted to soporifics, massive nightcaps, 
and driving through the countryside at ninety miles an hour. 
"Life simply can't go on on the basis of continued and implacable 
resentments," he wrote. But it did go on. 

In his apparent innocence of the nature of corruption, Ickes 
calmly bequeathed us a self-portrait of a man corrupt in the 
deepest sense. But it is not the likeness of the portrait that makes 
it so striking; it is, on the contrary, its almost total lack of cor 
respondence to reality. Ickes was the embodiment of a stunning 

2oj The Interior I ekes 

paradox; lie was corrupt on the Inside and pure as the driven 
snow on the outside. His outer purity was no pose; It was a fact, 
a condition, and If it were not for this diary the evil that he did 
would not have lived after him. But there Is no proof that he did 
any evil. None of the countless post-mortems on the Roosevelt 
administration have brought to light a single Instance of Ickes 
abandoning the public interest. (The diary reveals only one. He 
mentions his support of a federal grant for the Queens MIdtown 
Tunnel and says, "The reason I was so strongly in favor of this 
is because Senator [Robert F.j Wagner wants It badly.") Generally 
speaking, he was, in matters bearing on the common welfare, as 
straight as a die. The President's uncle may or may not have 
been speaking from the heart when he commended Ickes for 
his "ability, Integrity, and Intellectual honesty," but It was a 
judgment any reasonable man could have made if he had gone 
solely by the record. No scandal ever touched Ickes, and he was 
perhaps the best administrator Roosevelt had. The only clouds 
that darken his memory are those he sketched in himself in this 
remarkable diary. 

Those volumes will stand as his most imposing monument. 
The self-portrait is repellent, but it is vivid and memorable. In 
fact, almost every virtue of the book seems attributable to some 
defect In its author's character. His candor was the product of 
his Indelicacy. Being a schemer, he had need for information on 
those around him. Literal-minded, uninterested in ideas for their 
own sake, he found self-expression in a simple transcription of 
the intelligence he received what was said at this dinner party, 
what was done at this conference, this Cabinet meeting, this 
poker game. The Secret Diary brings to life a Washington in 
which a social revolution is being engineered, but it would, one 
imagines, be hardly less absorbing if it dealt with the administra 
tion of Mlllard Fillmore. 

The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

In the spring of 195*] 3 the editors of Esquire asked me to write 
an article on Ezra Pound. In the back of their minds, and of 
mine,, was the idea of saying something that might create a new 
interest in the case and perhaps help get him out of St. Elizabeths 
Hospital. It has been said that the article, which appeared in 
September 1957, did play a party and I like to think this is so. 
What was more important, however, was the initiative of the 
magazine's editors in soliciting letters commenting on the article 
and on the "case" from a large number of other writers among 
them Marianne Moore, Van Wyck Brooks, Osbert Sitwell, John 
Dos Passos, William Carlos Williams, Richard Wilbur, Robert 
Graves, Norman Mailer, Mark Schorer, and Babette Deutsch. 
Their letters were published in Esquire over a period of three 
months and were used, as was my piece, by Pound's counsel, 
Thurman Arnold, who is perhaps the only lawyer ever to have a 
brief (the Pound one) rewritten by Robert Frost. A circumstance 
that helped greatly in getting Pound sprung was a change in the 
federal rule on insanity defenses; the old McNaghten's Rule, 
which held that a man could not plead insanity if he had been 
aware of the legal and moral consequences of his acts at the time 
of their commission, was replaced in federal courts by the doctrine 
that, to summarize briefly, a man could not be convicted of a 
crime if the crime was the product of his aberrations. For so long 
as this doctrine held, it would almost certainly have been im 
possible to prove Pound guilty. Anyway, on April 18, 1958, the 
charges against Pound were dismissed by Chief Judge Bolitha /. 
Laws of the Federal District Court in Washington. The Depart- 

205 The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

ment of Justice had requested their dismissal after, its representa 
tives said, being advised by psychiatrists that Pound would never 
be competent to stand trial and would be harmless if released. 

Pound had refused to see me while I was doing the article. I 
suppose he assumed it would be hostile. After he saw an advance 
copy, however, he sent me a paperback Selected Poems with an 
inscription scrawled over the first three pages. I deciphered it as 

No bloke with a papal name shows benevolence for which my 
thanks. He neglected a few bits of homework, vide p. VIII 
(not p. 8.) One quote without context could be correlated with 
senate investigation of labor racketeering and European ef 
forts to deal with that problem. 


IT WOULD BE HARD to name a living man who embodies more 
polarities of mind, temperament, and function than Ezra Pound, 
the poet, scholar, and sometime reformer who has spent the last 
twelve of his seventy-two years confined, as certifiably insane, in 
St. Elizabeths Hospital, the huge asylum maintained by the 
federal government on a rise of land in the southeast corner of 

This inmate is one of the great champions and liberators of 
the modern spirit; he is also a crackpot poisoner of the well of 
opinion a political crank who has proceeded from funny-money 
theories to a full-blown chauvinism. This xenophobe Pound is 
one of the truly cosmopolitan figures of the century as the 
pre-eminent translator of his time, he has been a heroic builder 
of bridges to other civilizations; there is, however, a chamber of 
his poet's soul in which a yahoo dwells a buckwheat oaf sound 
ing off like a Kleagle of the Klavern or a New York street-brawler 
back in the days of the Christian Front. This cosmopolitan Pound 
is a true patriot he has a love for the United States that is 
genuine and affecting and that has had a great deal to do with 
the making of American culture over the last fifty years; yet he 
has been, since November 26, 1945, under indictment for nineteen 


separate counts of treason the charge growing out of the un- 
contested fact that he made propaganda broadcasts for the fascist 
enemy from the enemy's camp in wartime. 

In Ezra Pound's extraordinary person, the antipodal qualities 
clang and clatter, the denial crowds the affirmation, antithesis is 
always on the heels of thesis. Throughout his life, he has esteemed 
the Confucian ideal of order, and much of his work reflects it; 
yet his life and his work, taken as a whole, are sheer chaos 
though sometimes a glorious chaos, as in what William Butler 
Yeats called the "stammering confusion" of the Cantos, the most 
imposing of all his work. This great man has stood at once for 
love and for hate, for friendship and for misanthropy, for reason 
and for befuddlement, for unexampled purity and for pure 
muck, for luminous spirits like Yeats and Robert Frost and for 
deranged ones like Benito Mussolini and for fanatics like John 
Kasper, the muddled youth who recently was denied appeal of a 
one-year sentence for contempt of court committed in the after 
math of his efforts, undertaken a year or so ago largely, he says, 
at Ezra Pound's encouragement to stir the lily-white animals 
to riot and bloodshed in defense of segregation in the South. 

In the world as Pound, in his better moments, wants it, first 
things would be first, and the first thing about him is that he is 
a great poet. It is by no means certain, though, that he or we can 
have it that way. The object of public interest today, of syn 
dicated newspaper articles and comment in the mass-circulation 
magazines, is Pound the crazy writer who appears in relationship 
to the White Citizens Councils and the general revival of Kluxery 
to be somewhat as Lenin was to the Bolsheviks before 1917. The 
comparison is, of course, absurd, and probably the connection 
between Pound and Kasper is not everything that young Mr. 
Kasper, hungering for a god and perhaps for a father, claims it to 
be. The White Citizens Councils should not be hung around 
Pound's neck simply on John Rasper's say-so. The records of 
St. Elizabeths Hospital reveal no more than a half-dozen visits by 
Kasper to Pound, and though there may have been more, no 
number of visits would constitute acceptable evidence of Pound's 
direct responsibility. The shrine is not to be blamed for every 
thing the pilgrim does and is. There is bigotry in Ezra Pound, 

zoj The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

and that is bad enough, but in justice it has to be acknowledged 
that he has never been known to address himself to the question 
of public-school integration. Still, the world does have a way, 
sometimes, of putting last, or secondary, things first, and to the 
world at the moment Pound is the inmate, the mental patient, 
the poet-writer who once committed treason or something and 
who now appears to be tied up with Kasper, the race agitator. 

The world's way is to be noted but not in all cases, and 
certainly not in such cases as this, followed. The main thing about 
Ezra Pound is that he is a poet of towering gifts and attainments. 
Poetry is not a horse race or any other sort of competition, and 
it is silly to argue over which poet runs the fastest, jumps the 
highest, or dives the deepest. Still, a respectable case could be 
made out to the effect that the century has produced no talent 
larger or more fecund than Pound's. Certainly the fit comparisons 
would be with no more than half a dozen other men who write in 
English. These, as the reigning critics see the matter today, would 
be T. S. Eliot, Yeats, Frost (some dissent here, probably), W. H. 
Auden, and Dylan Thomas; later on, some of these names may 
be removed and replaced by some from the second rank, such as 
Wallace Stevens, Robert Graves, Walter de la Mare, Marianne 
Moore, William Carlos Williams, E. E. Cummings, and Robert 

Pound's position is secure, not only because of the power of 
his own work but because of his service as a midwife to genius 
and as an influence on other poets. Not long ago, the government 
which detains Pound in St. Elizabeths circulated abroad, as part 
of its effort to persuade the world that we Americans really care 
about the finer things, a flossy periodical in which it was asserted 
that Ezra Pound "has done more to serve the cause of English 
poetry than anyone else alive." (The article, by Hayden Carruth, 
a gifted critic, also said, "It is hard to think of a good reason why 
Pound should not have his freedom immediately.") The state 
ment on his service is broad but difficult to gainsay. Of the poets 
of comparable stature, at least half have at one time or another 
been Pound's disciples; others were greatly aided by him. The 
best-known and most influential poem of our time, Eliot's The 
Waste Land, took the shape in which the world knows it under his 


expert hand. Eliot submitted it to Pound at many stages, and In 
its penultimate stage it was, according to Eliot, "a sprawling, 
chaotic poem . . . which left Pound's hands, reduced to about 
half its size, in the form in which it appears in print." The dedica 
tion of The Waste Land reads, "For Ezra Pound il miglior 
fabbro" Pound deeply influenced Yeats in the later phases of 
Yeats' career. But for Pound, the recognition of Robert Frost 
would have come more belatedly than it did. It was Pound who 
first got Frost published in the United States and Pound also who 
found a London publisher for James Joyce. Amy Lowell, E. E. 
Cuinmings, and William Carlos Williams sat, often in extreme 
discomfort, at his feet. W. H. Auden is of a later generation, but 
he has asserted that "there are few living poets . . . who could 
say, 'My work would be exactly the same if Mr. Pound had never 
lived/ " 

And all of this influencing and literary politicking in addition 
to his own work: it is now just short of fifty years since the 
publication of his first book, A Lume Spento, and the flame is 
still bright and hot. He began with a rage to "purify the language 
of the tribe" and to make that purified language part of the stuff 
of life itself. Poetry was to be existence, not about existence. 
"Poetry is ... as much 'criticism of life* as red-hot iron is a 
criticism of fire." The age, he said, in one of his most famous 

. . . demanded an image 
Of its accelerated grimace, 
Something for the modern stage, 
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace; 

Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries 

Of the inward gaze; 

Better mendacities 

Than the classics in paraphrase! 

A prose kinema, not, not assuredly, alabaster 
Or the "sculpture" of rhyme. 

He provided for the age what he thought it demanded volume 
upon volume of poetry, some of incomparable loveliness, some of 

j2op The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

unexcelled ugliness, and much besides. And he still does. In these 
last few melancholy years, many magical and magnificent things 
have gone out to the world from his bedlam in Washington. He 
has pressed forward with his Cantos, with his criticism, and with 
his Indefatigable labors of translation, the latest fruit of which 
Is a stunning version of Sophocles' Trachiniae. If the New York 
Herald Tribune now sees his wretched quarters in Anacostia 
as the place where young men like John Kasper are corrupted, 
others may some day compare them with the cells In which 
Cervantes wrote Don Quixote or Bunyan Pilgrim's Progress. 

But Pound Is alive and controversial in our world and much 
too thorny a subject to be dealt with only in terms of his major 
work. His madness, if it exists, will not be exorcised by his verses 
any more than his verses can be hidden under his madness. 
Poetry, one can begin by saying, Is, among other things, an act 
of the controlled intelligence. This is particularly true in the 
case of Pound, who has never failed to demand of himself and of 
his work cool, hard, purposeful thought, and who has, addi 
tionally, an analytical mind of immense power. However, a con 
trolled and discriminating intelligence is not a sure defense 
against insanity. Both madness and genius can be spasmodic or 
simultaneous in a compartmented being like Pound. 

The question of whether Pound is insane by any acceptable 
legal or psychiatric definition is a vexed one. Reputable authori 
ties disagree. Four psychiatrists, one of them appointed by 
Pound's counsel, filed a unanimous report which led to his com 
mitment to St. Elizabeths, sparing the defendant and the country 
the pain of a trial for a capital offense. But some doctors have 
maintained that Pound is quite a long way from being Insane by 
the standards that court examiners are compelled to use and that 
justice was jobbed when Pound went to the hospital rather than 
to the gallows. From the layman's point of view, the matter is a 
good deal simpler. Whether Pound meets the legal and institu 
tional tests for a criminally inculpable and confinable psychotic 
and it seems highly doubtful that he does he is a pathological 
personality who has, by the reasonable standards of most rea 
sonable men, lost contact with reality at many crucial points. In 
the vernacular, he is off his rocker or if he isn't, the rest of us 


are off ours. The paranoid's delusions, Ms morbid suspicions, 
his view of life as a conspiracy are all apparent, even in the 
fine poetry, which more and more over the last twenty-five years 
has dealt with Pound's political and economic obsessions. In 
Pound, those suspicions and delusions are evidence of mania. 
For a village eccentric to assert that Franklin Roosevelt was a 
tool of international Jewry, that we got into World War II 
because of a crooked financial deal pulled off by Roosevelt and 
Henry Morgenthau, that all world history would be changed if 
Martin Van Buren's autobiography had been published a few 
years sooner than it was all this would not be conclusive proof 
of insanity. Such beliefs may merely show misguidance. But it is 
quite another thing for a man of Pound's cultivation to believe 
them and to make them the stuff of his poetry. 

Since the onset of the great depression, Pound has been making 
silk purses from sows' ears. His major theme as distinct from 
the secondary and supporting themes involving Roosevelt and 
Morgenthau and Van Buren has been that mankind's troubles, 
all of them, are traceable to the hiring out of money at interest 
("the beast with a hundred legs, USURA") by commercial lenders 
("every bank of discount is downright corruption/every bank of 
discount is downright iniquity") and that life on earth would be 
sweet and noble and aesthetically rich if we had the wisdom to 
adopt the fiscal reforms advocated by Silvio Gesell, Major G. H. 
Douglas, and other hopeful currency tinkerers. These are his 
political convictions as well as the meat of his poetry, and since 
when, asks Dr. Frederic Wertham, one of the dissenting psy 
chiatrists, has a political conviction, however aberrant, been 
regarded as proof of paranoia? The answer the layman can give, 
without attempting to satisfy either psychiatry or law, is that 
a political conviction is lunatic when it leads a man to tell a 
friend, as Pound once told William Carlos Williams, that at a 
given moment he preferred the sanctuary of St. Elizabeths to the 
world beyond its Nichols Avenue gates, where he believed he 
would be shot by agents of the "international crew." 

The obsessions make him see the surface of life in a world that 
endures usury as "infinite pus flakes, scabs of a lasting pox," and 
the flux of life in this motion: 

2ii The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

as the earth moves, the centre 

passes over all parts In succession 
a continual bum-belch 

distributing its production 

Still, the purses are silk beyond all cavil or dispute: 

The ant's a centaur in his dragon world. 

Pull down thy vanity, it is not man 

Made courage or made order, or made grace 

Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down. 
Learn of the green world what can be thy place 
In scaled invention or true artistry 
Pull down thy vanity, 

Paquin pull down! 
The green casque has outdone your elegance. 

It is characteristic of the great egotists to have little traffic with 
their own years of innocence and learning. When they deal with 
the period at all, they are likely to follow the example of Rousseau 
and foreshorten and revise experience in such a way as to make 
worldliness follow directly upon infancy. Pound is of the classic 
breed though not, as it happens, in any other way a brother to 
Rousseau. One cannot accuse him of selfishness or of excessive 
self-portraiture; his ego has asserted itself massively, in cock- 
sureness, in literary and political arrogance, in conceits of dress 
such as red velvet robes and conceits of leadership such as walk 
ing one pace ahead of his followers in every procession, and, in 
these later years, in his paranoid delusions about the malign 
sources of the world's resistance to his remedies. This kind of 
self-concern has led him to consider himself and his life at great 
length, to record his own comings and goings, to preserve the 
least of his obiter dicta, and to reflect in hundreds of thousands 
of words on the meaning of his own strange journey. 

Yet the shaping years are nowhere dealt with. In every auto 
biographical statement, the infant born in Hailey, Idaho, in 
1885, the son of Homer and Isabel Weston Pound, becomes in a 
sentence or two a central figure in American letters. Idaho could 
have influenced him not at all, for in 1887 the family moved to 
Wyncotte, Pennsylvania, and Pound's father took up his duties 


as assayer of the United States Mint at Philadelphia. It is clear 
from a handful of letters to his parents, published a few years 
ago in his collected correspondence, that they were bookish, 
serious-minded people. His mother, who was somehow related to 
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was a musician of sorts, and his 
father had a lively and informed interest in contemporary litera 
ture. Does the fact that Pound's father had a professional concern 
with the value of currency explain Pound's obsession to any 
degree? This has been rumored, but Pound himself has cast no 
light upon it. All that is really known of him in the early years 
is that he survived. 

He was a gifted child and entered the University of Penn 
sylvania at fifteen. From this point on, he is not reticent in deal 
ing with experience, but neither, one suspects, is he particularly 
reliable. He paints himself as an enormously learned young man, 
which he no doubt was, and as an enormously sophisticated one, 
which he evidently was not. He did not enroll as a regular 
undergraduate at Pennsylvania. He wanted no truck with most 
of what they had to teach, so he was a "special student," working 
mostly in languages. He claims to have had contempt for most of 
his teachers and for most of his fellow students. Yet there are 
contemporaries who remember him as a boy, gangling and shy 
and humiliated by his life under a carpet of bright red hair, who 
was terribly eager for acceptance and who, indeed, was so eager 
to be pledged to a fraternity that, when he was finally rebuffed, 
he transferred to Hamilton College. The story may be untrue; 
it all happened in another world anyway, and memories are not 
all they might be. But the quality of memories counts. William 
Carlos Williams, a medical student at Pennsylvania at the time, 
has the recollection that when Pound thought the moment had 
at last arrived to try his luck at picking up a girl, he implored 
Williams to come along for protection. 

At all odds, Pound did transfer to Hamilton, where he took 
prescribed courses and in 1905 was awarded a degree. After 
Hamilton, he went back to Pennsylvania and got a master's 
degree. (It is curious that in a one-page autobiography prepared 
for his Selected Poems in 1949, Pound, wlnle skipping over some 
of the principal episodes in his life, should have listed three 

2/5 The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

academic degrees, two earned, from Hamilton and Pennsylvania, 
and an honorary Litt. D. from Hamilton in 1939. Before 1939, 
he had been writing of American universities as nothing but 
fancy beaneries. In April 1929, he advised the Alumni Secretary 
of the University of Pennsylvania that "All the U. of P. or your 
god damn college or any other god damn American college does 
or will do for a man of letters is to ask him to go away without 
breaking the silence." It was a different story when Hamilton 
asked the man of letters to accept its recognition. Among his 
many dualities are a contempt for authority and an almost 
sickening respect for it. When he lived in Italy, he had embossed 
on his stationery a gamy platitude from Mussolini "Liberty is 
not a right but a duty.") In those student years, he wrote some of 
the poems that were to appear in his first book in 1908. It would 
be interesting, at least from the viewpoint of the gossip that 
lurks in each of us, to know how close he was to the trembling 
adolescent recalled by Williams and how far from this, which is 
from the period: 

For I was a gaunt, grave councillor 
Being in all things wise, and very old, 
But I have put aside this folly and the cold 
That old age weareth for a cloak. 

I was quite strong at least they said so 
The young men at the sword-play. . . . 

Pound had tried out for the fencing team at Pennsylvania. 

Poems are bom of hopes and imaginings, and so long as Pound 
had these within him, as he did in wild abundance, it should 
matter little to anyone save those in a position to offer therapy 
what else he was in that faraway time. After Philadelphia, he 
traveled abroad for a year, in Italy, Spain, and Provence, and 
then accepted an instructorship at Wabash College, in Indiana. 
Within a few months of his appointment, he was asked to resign, 
which he did. His story is that he had invited to his lodgings a 
penniless girl, stranded from a burlesque show, whom he had 
found on the streets of the town while going out in a raging 
blizzard to mail a letter. He claimed that he had been stirred by 


nothing more than an impulse to hospitality, and in the centen 
nial history of the college, the authorities, eager to reclaim a 
genius, explained that the girl slept chastely in Pound's bed and 
Pound on the floor. It sounds plausible, but it scarcely matters. 
Pound's landlady discovered her. The college providentially 
booted him, and he returned to Europe, there to remain, except 
when he returned for his honorary Litt. D., until he was flown to 
Washington as a prisoner under armed guard on November 18, 

"London, deah old Lundon, is the place for poesy" thus 
Pound, to a stay-at-home friend on February 3, 1909. London was 
the place for Pound or, at any rate, a place. It is difficult to 
believe that his awesome energies were greatly dependent on 
environment. At all odds, he pursued poesy; he gave it chase 
like a Nimrod being shot at from the rear. It is doubtful if any 
other American writer ever knew a period as fertile as the decade 
that followed Pound's move to London. He produced his finest 
half-dozen volumes of poetry, quite enough to sustain his reputa 
tion. ("Thirty pages are enough for any of us to leave/' he once 
wrote. "There is scarce more of Catullus or Villon." There are 
perhaps a thousand pages of Pound's own poetry, with more 
coming all the time.) He translated: from medieval French, 
from Latin, from Greek, and from Chinese and Japanese, which 
he could not read but which he nevertheless rendered from the 
literal translations of Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, an American 
Orientalist who had taught philosophy at the Imperial Normal 
School in Tokyo and who made Pound his executor. He was 
the European editor of P.oetry, the Chicago magazine which 
Harriet Monroe, a noble dilettante lady, offered this Philistine 
republic as "a place of refuge, a green isle in the sea, where 
Beauty may plant her gardens." He dug up Frost and Eliot for 
the magazine; he pestered established British writers for manu 
scripts. He got Wyndham Lewis, John Masefield, Ford Madox 
Ford, Rabindranath Tagore. He and Amy Lowell put their 
heads together, a consummation blessed by T. E. Hulme, a 
British philosopher with poetic leanings, and produced Imagism, 
a school. The doctrine was that poetic images should not be 
adornments but the guts of the work itself. The language, in 

2/5 The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

Hulme's words, was to be "cheerful, dry and sophisticated/* or, 
in Pound's single word, "perfect." "It stands," he said, amplify 
ing, "for hard, clear edges." And the best of it did have hard, 
clear edges; sometimes, though, the quest for perfection was 
destructive; the individual poem was lightened and hardened 
to the point where it was fleshless and boneless. Once Pound had 
the thought of describing some faces he had looked upon in the 
Paris M^tro. He wrote a poem of thirty lines. It seemed rather 
fatty to him, so he put it aside, while he awaited further light 
on the problem. After a time, he went over it and cut it to 
fiiteen lines. Still imperfect. He put it away again for a year or 
so, and then did some drastic surgery, so that the poem, called 
In a Station of the Metro, now reads, in its entirety: 

The apparition of these faces in the crowd: 
Petals on a wet, black bough. 

Pound soon abandoned the school in favor of one he called 
Vorticism, which he proclaimed as vastly superior. He was alone 
in grasping the distinction; if there was one, it did not show in 
his work, in which he continued to make breath-taking ap 
proaches to perfection. 

"Dear Miss Lowell," Pound wrote in November 1913, *'I agree 
with you . . . that 'Harriet' is a bloody fool. Also I've resigned 
from Poetry in Hueffer's (Ford Madox Ford's) favor, but I 
believe he has resigned in mine. . . ." It was this sort of thing 
down through the years. Imagism to Vorticism and on along to 
Social Credit and Gesellism, thence to fascism. And from Poetry 
to BLAST, the official Vorticist organ, which had no bang at all 
and petered out in two issues, and back to Poetry and on to The 
Egoist and The Little Review. In between and amongst these, 
there were side enthusiasms the music of George Antheil and 
Arnold Dolmetsch, the sculpture of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. 
Pound learned to play the bassoon and for a time fancied him 
self a composer. He was everlastingly transient. It was not for 
long that London was good for poesy. By 1913, England was "this 
stupid little island . . . dead as mutton." After the war, he 
moved to Paris accompanied by the wife he had acquired in 
London, Dorothy Shakespear, who lives today in the wastes of 


southeast Washington and never misses a visiting period at St. 
Elizabeths. And a few years after that to Rapallo, on the Italian 

"One has to keep going East," he told Mary Colum, "to keep 
one's mind alive." Any direction would have done, for it was 
really a matter of the restlessness of the literary plotter and 
organizer of movements. As Robert Graves saw it, "Slowly the 
frustrated Pound went mad-dog and bit the other dogs of his day; 
he even fastened his teeth in Yeats' hand, the hand that had fed 
him/* This is too dour a picture of it. Pound was not, at bottom, 
disloyal. Indeed, even in his present madness, he remains fast to 
many of his oldest friends and his oldest principles. The cream of 
the ugly jest is that he remains intensely loyal to some of the 
principles he has been accused of betraying and, in fact, in his 
fashion did betray. When he insists, as he always does nowadays, 
that everything he did and was in politics had as its object the 
"saving of the United States Constitution/' he is representing 
himself as honestly as he can. Even in the zaniest of the Cantos, 
in the mad, ranting passages about Adams and Jefferson and 
poor old Van Buren, one has a sense of him as a genuine 
American reformer, a zealous improver, the perpetual liberal 
optimist of American letters carrying on in the spirit of 1912. 
"Any agonizing," he wrote in that year, "that tends to hurry 
what I believe in the end to be inevitable, our American Risorgi- 
rnento, is dear to me. That awakening will make the Italian 
Renaissance look like a tempest in a teapot." 

If there is any one unbroken strand in Pound's experience, it is 
the one that begins with this statement and continues on to what 
is durable in his work today. Of all the contrarieties and polarities 
in Pound, none is more striking than that of the enemy broad 
caster, the partisan of Mussolini, as American patriot. The 
courts may never be able to see this; it is perhaps proper that they 
should not. To be betrayed by a daft patriot is not much better 
than to be betrayed by a sanely calculating Iscariot. Nevertheless, 
the fact cannot be denied that Pound, as a writer and as a man, 
has had an immense and touching faith in the culture he ap 
peared to be ready to abandon as a youth. He believed with 

2/7 The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

Whitman that American experience was fit and even glorious 
material for poetry, and what he was at war with when he left 
this country was the spirit that denied this and tried only for 
"Attic grace" and the "classics in paraphrase/' "Make it new/' 
Pound kept saying, from his colloquial rendering of Confucius, 
and "Make it American," as if he were a booster of home manu 
factures at a trade fair. "Are you for American poetry or for 
poetry/' he wrote Miss Monroe, when she was setting up her 
magazine, "The latter is more important, but it is important 
that America should boost [sic!] the former, provided it don't 
[sic] mean a blindness to the art. The glory of any nation is to 
produce art that can be exported without disgrace to its origin. 
. . . The force we have, and the impulse, but the guiding sense, 
the discrimination in applying the force, we must wait and strive 
for." He believed, and was to persuade many others to believe, 
that the American language as well as the American experience 
was fit for poetry: the speech of our people, the garment of their 
consciousness, was vigorous and supple and tender enough "to be 
spoken by the gods." 

And this has been the point of his curious and often debated 
work as a translator: he has made everything new and everything 
American. Edwin Arlington Robinson, the last poet to work 
effectively in the tradition Pound rejected and sought to crush, 
once wrote of how Shakespeare 

. . . out of his 

Miraculous inviolable increase 

Fills Ilion, Rome, or any town you like 

Of olden time with timeless Englishmen. 

Shakespeare sent his imagination traveling in time and space 
and was never anything but English to the core. Pound ex 
patriated himself for four decades in Europe and went back over 
the years to Cathay millenniums before Christ and was never, 
in any time or place, other than American to the marrow and 
gristle. He filled Rome and Crete and the France of the trouba- 
dors and China and Japan with timeless Americans. This is no 
defense against treason. Yet it is a fact. In his version of 


Trachiniae, or Women of Trachis., a product of his labors at St. 
Elizabeths, he has Hyllos say of Herakles 

They say he's in Euboea, 

besieging Eurytusville 
or on the way to it. 

"Eurytusville j indeed! It is as if Shakespeare had written The 
Merchant of Veniceshire or Timon of Athensford. 

One must return, sooner or later, to the denial that always 
follows hard on the affirmation. It could, of course, be no more 
than a cheap trick to call Eurytus Eurytusville, whereas it was, 
for an American, a foul one to broadcast, as Ezra Pound did, on 
May 26, 1942, when our forces were beleaguered in almost every 
quarter of the globe, that every rare and occasional decency of 
the United States government, "every reform ... is an act of 
homage toward Mussolini and Hitler. They are your leaders. 
. . ." Unless our monitors had faulty hearing, that is what the 
man said. In the nineteen presumably treasonable utterances 
cited in the indictment, that is the one that, on the face of it, 
is the clearest and most shameful. More often, the broadcasts 
were a loony garble so much so that the Italians for a time 
thought he was broadcasting secrets in code. But there it stands 
"Mussolini and Hitler. They are your leaders." 

It is possible to take the psychiatrists' way out and say that by 
then Pound was a nut not to be held responsible. But the matter 
will not rest there. Some sort of accommodation must be reached 
between Pound the glorious American poet and Pound the loony 
ideologue. Various possibilities suggest themselves. It has often 
been argued that there is an affinity between American populism 
and brutal American reaction. But this will not do for Pound 
the sweet singer; except for his hatred of bankers and his funny 
money, he was never fetched by the Populist fallacies. Quite the 
contrary. "It is the function of the public to prevent the artist's 
expression, by hook or by crook," he wrote, a few years after his 
departure from England. And: "I know the man who translated 
Jean Christophe, and moreover it's a popular craze, so I suppose 
there must be something wrong with it." And: "I should like the 
name Tmagism' to retain some sort of meaning. ... I cannot 

2i$ The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

trust any democratized committee to maintain that standard." 
He was armored against undue respect for the mass of mankind. 

A more promising hypothesis Is that he was beguiled even 
tually into Insanity by a predilection for conspiracy theories of 
life and history. The man thus beguiled sees society as a kind of 
machine In which things are always going wrong. This machine 
is hurting him. He himself Is not part of it. He feels he has no 
control over Its workings, and therefore no responsibility for 
it. He sees a human comedy and a human tragedy, and he may 
be deeply moved by the spectacles, but they are spectacles things 
to be seen, from somewhere offstage. Eventually, if he is clever, 
he discerns ways of Improving the spectacles, removing their 
flaws. The spectacles resist Improvement; the stupid players strike 
back. ("I've got a right to be severe," the young Pound wrote, 
"For one man I strike, there are ten to strike back at me. I 
stand exposed/') Going to work on the problem, the Intellectual 
hunts out a general principle a theory of society's malfunction 
ing. Young men who pursued this line of thought thirty years 
after Pound clutched, for obvious enough historic reasons, at the 
proposition that the fault lay In the fact that the means of pro 
duction and distribution were in private hands, when in fact, 
for virtue's sake, they should be in public hands, as in the Soviet 
Union. Some of them, delighted to have got at the root of the 
problem, betrayed their heritage as foolishly and in many cases 
far more effectively than Pound did. And some, too, were driven 
out of their minds. 

It was no doubt always in the cards that Pound would reach 
for the purely mechanical device currency reform for righting 
social wrongs. Loving America, as in truth plenty of the young 
Communists did, he saw "society" as something else altogether 
something hateful and machine-like. There were not many 
social vogues in his day. Marxism was little heard of in the 
circles in which he moved. Somehow he was reached by the 
Social Credit people, who promised order in society. Then he 
came upon Silvio Gesell, an erratic German who had observed 
that interest rates bore no logical relation to economic expansion. 
Usurers set rates according to what the traffic would bear. Who 
were the usurers? The principal ones, obviously, were the great 


International bankers. From this point, Pound made the classic 
leap to anti-Semitism. Somewhat earlier, he had made the leap 
to the corporate state in Italy. Pound clearly liked the grandiosity 
of it and he liked the most comical of Mussolini's thrashings 
about in the name of "order/' or meaningful timetables; it ap 
peared a genuine effort to take the frustrations out of life, to 
organize society according to a principle, as Pound was trying to 
organize poetry according to a principle. 

We can never know when the cord at last snapped. Nothing we 
can find in Pound's poetry or his life prepares us for the exces- 
siveness or the sheer franticness of his social concerns. An infatua 
tion with Mussolini would be understandable; Pound was given 
to infatuations. But the mind boggles when this great critical 
spirit is heard claiming for Mussolini the perfection he never 
found in others and so seldom found even in himself. "The 
more one examines the Milan speech," he wrote apropos of a 
run-of-the-mine bit of rhetoric by Mussolini, "the more one is 
reminded of Brancusi, the stone blocks from which no error 
emerges, from whatever angle one looks at them." A quotation 
from Jefferson and/ or Mussolini, published in 1935. 

By then the cord was certainly badly frayed. 

In his years in St. Elizabeths, Pound has steadily maintained 
that he had no wish to oppose this country during the war. He 
points out, in lucid moments, that he could have saved himself 
all his misery by the simple device of accepting Italian citizenship 
in 1939. He clung to his American passport. It is a matter of 
record that he tried in 1942 to get aboard the last diplomatic train 
that took Americans from Rome to Lisbon. He was refused 
permission to board it. He had no choice but to stay in Rapallo. 
After a while the Italians asked him to broadcast. He accepted. 
He has said that "no scripts were prepared for me by anybody, 
and I spoke only when I wanted to." And he goes on, not at all 
lucidly, "I was only trying to tell the people of Europe and 
America how they could avoid war by learning the facts about 
money." The war was itself then an unavoidable fact, and it was 
not about money though it does happen to be true that most 
of Pound's broadcasts did deal with his currency obsessions. It 
also happens to be true that he lent himself, on whatever terms, 

22 j The Contrarieties of Ezra Pound 

to the enemy. He now forgets the terms: "I'd die for an Idea all 
right, but to die for an Idea I've forgotten Is too much." 

He lived out the war In Rapallo, writing and making his 
occasional broadcasts, and In November 1945, hearing that units 
of the American occupation forces were looking for him, he 
delivered himself to the proper military authorities. They placed 
him under arrest and kept him in an encampment or Dis 
ciplinary Training Center near Pisa. Someone In the Army 
goofed; the word went out that Pound was violent and also that 
the fascists thought so highly of him that armed bands might 
seek to free him. A special cage was built for him out of the 
heavy mesh steel used for temporary runways. "They thought I 
was a dangerous wild man and were scared of me. I had a guard 
night and day. . . . Soldiers used to come up to the cage and 
look at me. Some of them brought me food. Old Ez was a prize 
exhibit/* For months he lived caged, sleeping on the ground, 
shielded from the sun and rain only by some tar paper a kindly 
G.I. found for him. In the cage, he wrote furiously, madly, 
poignantly. The fruit of the imprisonment was The Pisan Cantos^ 
for which a distinguished group of American scholars, appointed 
by the Librarian of Congress, voted him the Bollingen-LIbrary 
of Congress Award of $1,000 for "the highest achievement of 
American poetry" in the year they were published, 1948. (The 
howls that went up after this put an end to the committee and 
the award.) By 1948, he had transferred his residence to St. 
Elizabeths, had suffered out eighteen months in a "maximum- 
security ward, and was enjoying the limited freedom he now 
has freedom to roam the asylum grounds as long as he stays 
in sight of the building in which he lives and freedom to chat 
with such as Kasper and freedom to write 

The States have passed thru a 

dam'd supercilious era 
Down, Deny-down 

Oh, let an old-man rest. 

He will very likely die there. There has been a clamor of 
sorts for his release over the last few years, but nothing ever 


comes of it. The indictment still stands; there is no statute of 
limitations on treason. The psychiatrists* opinion that he is in 
competent to take part in his own defense still stands. Since he 
is not dangerous and since he receives no therapy at the hospital, 
he might be released still under indictment, still adjudged in 
competent to state his own case in the custody of his wife and 
his friends, who are numerous and long-suffering. Would this 
mean encouraging intrigues with the likes of young John Kasper? 
He is free for these intrigues now, and if they are to be taken 
seriously if, that is, anyone is really to believe that Ezra Pound 
is a force in our political life his status as martyr and prisoner 
gives an extra cutting edge of hate and resentment to him and 
to his frowzier associates. Actually, there is no reason to believe 
that he is any sort of a force. He made some broadcasts for 
the fascists years ago. They were reprehensible. But, as he asked, 
"Does anyone have the faintest idea what I said?" No one does, 
unless he looks it up in the indictment. In the language he might 
be admiring if his contact with American life was restored, we 
won the war and, anyway, no one ever listened to that crazy 
jazz. The government, if it wished, could act not on grounds of 
justice but on grounds of largesse. It has sat by while some pretty 
low characters have been sprung in Germany, Italy, and Japan 
real war criminals, now given positions of trust. The war- 
criminal side of Pound is as trivial in terms of history as his 
poetry is great. As Hayden Carruth wrote in Perspectives USA, 
the publication distributed to the intelligentsia abroad in bundle 
lots, "It is hard to think of a good reason why Pound should 
not have his freedom immediately." 

Sidney Hillman, or the Doctrine 
of Good Connections 

5 3 

MATTHEW JOSEPHSON'S LIFE of the late Sidney Hillman is a long, 
dull, piety-ridden book but a document nevertheless of consider 
able interest. It is, for one thing, the most ambitious study of a 
labor leader that any American writer has undertaken. This is in 
itself an odd and striking circumstance. For years now, American 
writers, the main body of them anyway, have felt and sometimes 
passionately expressed an affinity for organized labor. On num 
berless occasions they have made common cause with its leaders. 
But while whole posses of novelists, dramatists, biographers, have 
been taking out after businessmen, politicians, Army officers, 
juvenile delinquents, inventors, movie stars, clergymen, doctors, 
hucksters, educators, hoboes, and just about everything else that 
American life turns up, no man of letters has seriously con 
fronted the labor leader. 

There have, of course, been books by Ph.D. candidates and 
journalists (the economist George Soule did a short life of Hill 
man in 1939). but Josephson is the first certifiable literary type 
to pick up the challenge. And Josephson is literary, all right, all 
right a veteran of the Left Bank and left wing, a former 
Dadaist and editor of transition, the author of an early dis 
course on alienation, Portrait of the Artist as an American, 
and of biographies of Rousseau, Zola, and Stendhal. 

It is fitting in a way that the man celebrated in this pioneer 
ing work should be Sidney Hillman, the founder and for thirty 
years the president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of 
America, the only man ever called a Labor Statesman in the 
New York Herald Tribune, the favorite labor leader of Frank- 



lin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, friend of Henry Wallace and 
Henry Morgenthau and even Henry Luce, labor adviser to the 
National Industrial Recovery Board and co-director of the Office 
of Production Management in World War II, and, of course, 
the "Sidney" of "Clear everything with Sidney" in the 1944 
Presidential campaign. (Franklin Roosevelt was said to have 
said it, and he probably did, and surely no labor leader in history 
had had anything of the sort even rumored to have been said 
about him by a President of the United States.) From the outset of 
his long and astonishing career, Hillman held enormous fascina 
tion for the highly placed and the high-minded. He seemed spread 
with a kind of honey that fetched intellectuals as if they were 
so many brown bears. Indeed, it was really this that made his 
career possible, though Josephson would have us believe it was 
something else. He says that "something like a religion of hu 
manity" had led Hillman to the labor movement and "showed 
in him to the last." He claims that Hillman invented "industrial 
arbitration." He calls him the "political leader par excellence of 
labor" and "perhaps the most creative of modern American 
labor leaders." He sees Hillman as a great and shining spirit 
loved by the workers because he "was very human and close to 
them always." Hillman has, Josephson says, "become a sort of 
legend for the multitudes of American workers . . . whom he 

This is all pretty absurd. Hillman was in many ways admira 
ble, but no man could have been more remote from the workers, 
and he is no sort of legend among them. A few years after his 
death, he is a dim figure in the imagination, and outside the 
garment centers of the country one would have a hard time 
finding any worker who recalled more about him than his name 
or as much. This does not mean he was unimportant. It means 
simply that he did not function at the workers' level. He func 
tioned among reformers, editors, executives, congressmen, clergy 
men, and the like. He had been an apprentice cutter at Hart, 
Schaffner & Marx in Chicago for about a year before becoming, 
at twenty-three, a full-time union functionary, and after that 
the rank and file saw precious little of him. "He worked at pants 
for a couple of months, and then he became right away a states- 

225 Sidney Hillman, or the Doctrine of Good Connections 

man/' a veteran garment worker was quoted as saying in a 
somewhat less reverent account than Josephson's. 

Hillman rose In the labor movement and In the world be 
cause he won and held the admiration of estimable people with 
high social Ideals. Among his early friends and patrons were 
Jane Addams, Louis Brandels, Lillian Wald, Clarence Darrow, 
William O. Thompson, Mrs. Raymond Robblns, and Newton D. 
Baker. It was Miss Addams and her Hull House friends, particu 
larly Earl Howard, of Northwestern University, who, seeing in 
Hillman a young man who looked like a poet and talked like 
a sociologist, commended him to Joseph Schaffner, the head man 
of Hart, Schaffner, & Marx, and something of an intellectual 
himself. The operators in Schaffner's pants factory had been 
restive. When Hillman started telling his former employer about 
the wretchedness of their lives, Schnaffner's conscience developed 
severe aches and pains, and a new day dawned in men's clothing. 

Hillman was catnip for every social worker, every writer, every 
liberal attorney, and just about every manufacturer he met. His 
leadership first in the old United Garment Workers and then 
in the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, of which he became, in 

1914, the first president, was in a large part a triumph of the 
Doctrine of Good Connections. Now and then employers would 
yield to the sheer power of the union, but more often they yielded 
to Hillman's verbalizing. Josephson tells how, in the winter of 

1915, Hillman went to Montreal, where a bitter strike was in 
progress. "In temperatures of twenty below zero the picket lines 
were filled mostly by young girls who came out at six in the 
morning, only to be ridden down by the Royal Mounted Police." 
The outlook was bleak. All the war powers of the Canadian 
government were being used against the workers. Hillman was 
undaunted. "[He] despatched many telegrams to friendly busi 
ness leaders in New York. . . . Through the intercession of a 
certain New York philanthropist . . . one of Montreal's largest 
clothiers, at length, agreed to receive him." Hillman called on 
the man and the Amalgamated was in like Flynn, 

It was a novel approach to the class struggle and a hugely 
successful one. There was the case of the A. Nash Tailoring 
Company in Cincinnati, an enormous sweatshop owned by a 


Seventh-day Adventist minister who was known as "Golden Rule" 
Nash. This divine was for years the leader of the open-shop forces 
in the industry and their chief ideologist. He claimed that God 
was running an open shop Upstairs. Hillman got some liberal 
churchman to arrange a conference with the Reverend Nash. 
"We prayed together," Hillman said. After the meeting, "Golden 
Rule" signed up with the union and explained to his business 
associates, "Let me tell you something, brethren, Sidney Hillman, 
to my mind, stands only second to the carpenter of Galilee In 
his leadership of the people themselves." 

From one point of view, Hillman was a highly effective labor 
leader. From another, he was not a labor leader at all, but a 
workers' ambassador to the employers. The Hart, Schaffner, & 
Marx management bargained with him for two years before 
learning that they had been doing business with the business 
agent for Chicago Local 39 of the United Garment Workers. 
Hillman had been representing the workers without troubling 
to mention that the workers were organized in a union. The 
employers had thought they were simply doing the decent thing 
at the urging of a nice young man and their own better natures. 

And so they had been. Learning that Hillman was connected 
with the union, they were "disappointed in and even much 
vexed at [him]." But not for long. Hillman gave them "the quiet 
assurance that he could make a proposed union agreement pay 
for them. Qosephson's italics.] He spoke in the language they 
understood, the American language of practical business." Hun 
dreds of employers were to hear the same assurances, the same 
easy-to-understand language down through the years. And they 
were to discover that Hillman, as a rule, a golden one, was right. 

Nothing contributed more to Hillman's reputation as a Labor 
Statesman than the Amalgamated^ efforts to serve as a laboratory 
of social improvement. Viewed strictly as a trade union, the 
Amalgamated was, and is, just so-so. Not bad, really, but not so 
hot either. It is hard to compare its wage scales with those of 
other unions, even of so closely related a one as Dubinsky's 
International Ladies' Garment Workers'. But It has certainly 
done no better by Its members than the average union, and an 
impressive case can be made out to the effect that it has not done 

227 Sidney Hillman, or the Doctrine of Good Connections 

nearly as well. In any event, many unions have done more. 
Judged by the degree of Internal democracy, the Amalgamated 
is probably a bit below par. It Is not as bad as the International 
Longshoremen's Association, but it Is not anywhere near as good 
as, say, the United Automobile Workers. 

But as an assembly of gadgets for "enriching" the lives of its 
members In other than financial ways, nothing matches it. Hill- 
man went In for enrichment right at the start. A lecturer on 
elevating topics named Dr. Max Goldfarb said that the new 
union should be "a temple within and a fortress without/' and 
the phrase so pleased Hlllman that he put Dr. Goldfarb on the 
payroll to sow seeds of culture in Amalgamated locals all over 
the country. After Dr. Goldfarb came a whole flood of devices 
for uplift, co-operative living, and the like. There were hous 
ing projects, workers* schools, labor colleges, insurance plans, 
choral groups, art classes, worker-owned plants, children's pro 
grams, and other such side shows. Some of these turned out well; 
others, like the worker-owned plants, fizzled. The best known 
today, no doubt, are the Amalgamated Banks in New York and 
Chicago, which, as the late Benjamin Stolberg once wrote, "do 
a small and safe commercial business and render the members of 
the union no service that they cannot get elsewhere/' 

In the large view, however, these ornaments paid off quite 
handsomely. For it was upon them rather than upon its accom 
plishments as a collective-bargaining agency that the Amalga- 
mated's reputation rested. Without them, it would have been 
just another union; with them, it was "the New Unionism/' It 
was with these gimmicks, along with such purely verbal tricks as 
a redefinition of collective bargaining as "industrial science/' 
that made Hlllman seem a towering figure to the editors of the 
Survey Graphic and the New Republic and to reformers like 
Louis Kirstein, Felix Frankfurter, and William Z. Ripley; that 
brought him invitations to address political-science academies 
and other learned groups; that led to the term "Labor States 
man"; that made him a court favorite in two liberal administra 
tions; and that produced this devotional essay by Matthew 

One wonders why all these trained minds succumbed so read- 


ily to Sidney Hillman. Is there some quirk in the pragmatic 
mind that is always getting form and substance mixed up? The 
experience of American intellectuals with Communism suggests 
such a possibility. Or is it, perhaps, that American liberalism has 
such a profoundly middle-class base that liberals are offended 
by militancy in collective bargaining and feel most comfortable 
with leaders who, like Hillman, appear to subordinate this gross 
activity to the task of housebreaking the workers? 

In any event, the gimmicks, quite apart from what they may 
have done for Hillman's ego, a sizable and intricate one, were 
of value to the union qua union. The Amalgamated began as 
a dual organization, and it won its most notable advantage over 
the United Garment Workers when Hillman's friends in the 
Wilson administration fixed things so that it should be the 
favored agency in firms getting military-uniform contracts. Be 
tween the New Freedom and the New Deal, the Amalgamated 
had a fairly rocky time of it, particularly toward the end, but 
then Felix Frankfurter became a power in Washington, Miss 
Perkins was appointed Secretary of Labor, and Hillman was 
called on to help draft N.R.A. codes and advise on labor legis 
lation. Under the New Deal the union in time consolidated its 
power. There is no more United Garment Workers. The Amalga 
mated is now secure, thanks largely to the gadgets which wowed 
the gadget-minded who were in a position to make it secure. 

Hillman had a healthy interest in power and throughout most 
of his long career dreamed of being head man not only of the 
men's clothing workers but of the women's as well. He regarded 
it as irrational that the needle trades should be divided accord 
ing to the sex for which the cutters and stitchers cut and stitched. 
He believed that the Amalgamated and the International Ladies* 
Garment Workers' should consolidate under his leadership. 
Josephson mentions this ambition and says that the barrier to it 
was the presence in the ILGWU of one man "to whom the idea 
of amalgamation was anathema." He goes on to say: "David 
Dubinsky, on the other hand, was one of the ILGWU executives 
who then [circa 1926] favored a combination of forces under the 
seemingly invincible Hillman/' He does not explain why, when 

22$ Sidney Hillman, or the Doctrine of Good Connections 

Dubinsky replaced Benjamin Schlesinger as head of the ILGWU, 
the combination of forces did not take place. As a matter of fact, 
It almost did, and thereby hangs a tale, which Dubinsky loves to 
relate. Hillman was still strong for a wedding of the unions in 
1933, when he became a labor adviser to the N.R.A. "I told him/* 
Dubinsky has said, "that If he would help us get a good NRA 
code, I'd step aside and let him be president." Before he gave a 
thought to the men's-clothing code, Hillman worked like a dog 
getting a model code for ladles' garments. He wheedled, he 
coaxed, he waxed eloquent, he used all his Good Connections. 
He succeeded remarkably well. "Then he went to work on men's/' 
Dubinsky says. "His credit with his friends It was all used up. 
They said, 'Please, Sidney, I did everything I could for you last 
week more don't ask of me/ " Thanks to the way Hillman had 
drawn on his credit, the ILGWU got a much better code than 
the Amalgamated, and Hillman, now In a poorer power position 
vis-a-vis Dubinsky, was in no hurry for a merger. 

Josephson makes no attempt to judge Hillman's career as a 
whole. It would be difficult for anyone to do. Hillman did a lot 
to improve conditions in one of our worst industries. The United 
Garment Workers would never have done anything; it was a 
racket for selling union labels to sew on workingmen's overalls. 
Some of the Amalgamated's contracts were bogus, too. Hillman 
often signed an agreement that won union recognition but noth 
ing extra In the pay envelope. But sooner or later the money 
came, and, taken on the whole, things got a good deal better over 
the years. 

Hillman was also important because he was the first American 
labor leader to form a close alliance with bourgeois reformers 
and liberal politicians. He was not a ranter like John L. Lewis 
or a reactionary like William Green. As labor grew in power, it 
needed a "statesman/' and Hillman looked the part. He was 
effective in the Office of Production Management, but so was 
William Knudsen, and no one thought of calling him a states 
man; even the liberals assumed that industry could give the 
country some good public servants. Hillman led the Political 
Action Committee of the C.I.O. in 1944, and this was one of 
labor's first really organized political ventures. It was not really 


much o a success. Hillman allowed it to be overrun with Com 
munists and fellow travelers; the last time the P.A.G. was heard 
about was when a large batch of its former functionaries joined 
Henry Wallace's Progressives in 1948. Hillman was not, of 
course, pro-Communist. Indeed, he had allowed racketeers into 
the Amalgamated in the twenties to pitch the Communists out, 
and he later had quite a time pitching the goons out. But he was 
an opportunist and a man knowing enough about left-wing affairs 
to realize that when the Communists were with you, they could 
take care of a lot of the dirty work. Hillman allowed them to 
wreck the American Labor party in New York as well as the 
P.A.C. Hillman was, in short, a labor politician. He was no states 

The Wicked Conspiracy Against 

General MacArthur 


NO LIVING AMERICAN, no eminent American of recent times, has 
been so hopelessly addicted to the conspiracy theory o history as 
General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. Alongside this warrior- 
statesman, Vice-President Nixon and Senator McCarthy have 
been mere triflers. Each has done his share to make the doctrine 
fashionable and serviceable, but there is no reason to suppose 
that either takes it with any real seriousness. Neither seems an 
authentically dedicated spirit. Senator James Eastland, of Mis 
sissippi, belongs, in my view, with them rather than with 
MacArthur. He has, it is true, carried the theory to new heights 
with his assertions that the Supreme Court has been "brain 
washed" by radicals and that "left-wing pressure groups are in 
control of the government of the United States." But the very 
scope and grandeur of his charges seem to reveal an essential 
frivolity about the conspiracy theory. I hope it will not be re 
garded as frivolity on my part if I add that Senator Eastland is 
rather fat and has the look of a man very satisfied with his lot 
in life, which is in many ways an enviable one. In my researches, 
I have yet to encounter a really serious adherent of the con 
spiracy theory who is portly. My judgments may be subject to 
revision, though, when and if Senator Eastland conducts an 
investigation of General MacArthur's claim that his recall by 
President Truman in 1951 was part of a global plot in which the 
British traitors Guy Burgess and Douglas Maclean were the 
central figures, but as of now Eastland appears to stand with 
those who use the conspiracy theory as a good thing not as the 
key to history. 



Of MacArthur's earnestness, though, there can be little doubt. 
He is a True Believer and not a rank-and-file one, but a com 
mander, egocentric, messianic, entete, a True Believer in himself. 
Like others of the breed, he finds it necessary to ascribe his dis 
appointments, which have been numerous, to base intrigue. In 
his melancholy and wayward universe, there is no purely per 
sonal guilt; evil always has its cabalistic aspect. There is no 
such thing as pure malice or spite; there is malice in abundance, 
but it can never be pure it is eternally in the service of, or 
somehow compounded by, dark and terribly complex con 
trivances. Thus, when he describes his recall as a "vengeful re 
prisal," as he did in his recent rejoinder, in Life magazine for 
February 13, to Harry Truman's reminiscences of the Korean 
war, he cannot let the matter drop there, for with this characteri 
zation of the act he is only on the outer surface of the truth as 
he knows it. He had been aware from the start, he has advised 
us, that "the disease of power was coursing through [Truman's] 
veins," but this, for MacArthur was not enough to know. A 
"vengeful reprisal" by a power-mad President is not in and of 
itself a conspiracy. If it had been only the President whom the 
General had to deal with, there would have been no contest. 
Besides, there cannot be, in the nature of things, a one-man 
conspiracy. "Quite apart from what Mr. Truman has to say 
in his memoirs," General MacArthur writes, "I had searched in 
vain for some logical explanation of my abrupt relief from com 
mand in the Far East." A "logical explanation" must be one in 
which malevolent design is apparent. "It was not," he tells us, 
"until the recent exposure of the British spies, Burgess and 
Maclean, that the true facts began to unfold." 

Senator Eastland has promised to unfold the facts, presumably 
before the Senate Internal Security Committee. One hopes he 
will get down to work right away.* Meanwhile, there is some 
fascinating material about earlier conspiracies against General 
MacArthur in MacArthur: His Rendezvous with History, by 
Major-General Courtney Whitney. Whitney is a former Manila 
lawyer with whom MacArthur formed an enduring friendship 

* He never did. 

2J5 The Wicked Conspiracy Against General MacArthur 

almost twenty years ago; he has been at MacArthur's side in one 
capacity or another from the Lingayen Gulf to the Waldorf 
Towers, from Corregldor to Remington Rand, and in spite of 
what must have been resourceful competition from Major- 
General Charles Willoughby, MacArthur's intelligence chief for 
many years, he has never had to relinquish his position as first 
among the sycophants. Of him, MacArthur says: 

I know of no one better qualified than he intelligently to discuss 
. . . my role in the stirring events which have encompassed the Far 
East since the start of World War II. ... [His] actual participation in 
the events and his knowledge of the concepts underlying my actions 
cannot fail to ensure the historical accuracy and corresponding value of 
Ms work. 

He might have added that Whitney is blessed with a humility 
that is rare among memoirists. Although it is, after all, his book, 
he says little of anything about his participation in the stirring 
events. He retires from the scene entirely whenever it is possible 
to let MacArthur tell his own story, which is much of the time. 
The book consists very largely of documents reports, memo 
randa, letters, wise sayings, public speeches by the rendezvouser 
with history himself, and may be considered, as Hanson Baldwin 
has pointed out, as General MacArthur's valedictory and apolo 
gia. It is informed and illuminated from start to finish by the 
view that not only the Far East but the world in general since 
the mid-thirties has been the stage for a titanic conflict between 
Douglas MacArthur and Satan in manifold disguises, most of 
them thin. Some of the early developments may be briefly sum 
marized as follows: 

1932: MacArthur defeats Communists on Anacostia Flats. Com 
munists shrewdly figure that MacArthur is their principal ad 
versary. Hatch plot to have "public trial and hanging in front 
of the Capitol of high government officials. At the very top of the 
list was the name of Army Chief of Staff MacArthur." Plot does 
not work out, but Communists form close anti-MacArthur alli 
ance with " 'Europe-first' cliques in the War and State Depart 


1935-36: MacArthur now in Philippines, getting ready for 
World War II. Washington conspirators turn out to have long 
reach. "Even in those early days when he had first started build 
ing the Philippines' defenses, U. S. officials had harassed him right 
in Manila. Frank Murphy, as High Commissioner of the Philip 
pines, betrayed his jealousy of MacArthur's stature in the islands 
by initiating a personal campaign of pressure on President 
Roosevelt to cause the General's removal/' Time not quite ripe. 
Campaign fails. MacArthur retires voluntarily and receives 
"accolade" from F.D.R., who says, "Your service in war and 
peace is a brilliant chapter in American history." True enough. 
"But accolades did not prevent MacArthur from being sniped 
at." Mephisto never sleeps. Plot goes on. 

1936-41: MacArthur working for Philippine government, head 
of armed forces, Field Marshal in Army. Nevertheless, finds him 
self "facing a movement to supplant him even in this position. 
. . . The movement gained powerful support in Washington but 
failed. . . ." It failed, but it did not cease. Complications in 
Manila. "[The] Philippine Assembly delayed on appropriations; 
some politicians tried to cut down the amounts MacArthur 
needed/' Reflecting on all this, MacArthur one day said to 
Whitney, "Destiny, by the grace of God, sometimes plays queer 
pranks with men's lives/' 

United States at war in Europe and Far East. Anti- 
MacArthur campaign stepped up. Navy becomes involved. Also 
England, France, and, of course, Soviet Union. But especially 
Washington. "While MacArthur, alone of all commanders in the 
Pacific, was stopping the enemy in his tracks, he was being 
sacrificed in Washington/' Roosevelt (he of the deceptive acco 
lade), Marshall, Churchill, Admiral Ernest J. King the whole 
crew "handed MacArthur the stewardship of a military disaster. 
And what made it one of the cruelest deceptions of the war was 
that they not only did not tell MacArthur but instead tried with 
every circumlocution possible to pretend the opposite of the 
truth." MacArthur turns out to be the only man who wants to 

2J5 The Wicked Conspiracy Against General MacArthur 

win the war. "MacArthnr's plan for a breakthrough and con 
tinued resistance [In the Philippines] was vetoed by Marshall. 
. . . Evidently the indomitable will no longer existed In Wash 
ington. . . . Defeatism [seemed] to be infecting the Pentagon." 
MacArthur forced to leave Philippines. VIce-Admiral Herbert 
Fairfax Leary refuses to lend good planes to evacuate MacArthur 
party. Offers three crates, one of which cracks up, killing two of 
crew. MacArthur finally gets decent plane, goes to Australia, wins 
war against heavy odds. King, Mountbatten, and other dupes 
"trying to relegate MacArthur to ... a minor holding action/' 
but cannot manage it. MacArthur In end receives Japanese sur 
render in splendid ceremony. Goes to Tokyo, rehabilitates Japan, 
and awaits Armageddon. 

In the end, the entire United States is made to seem an instru 
ment for bringing misery into the life of Douglas MacArthur. 
At first It is only the politicians who frustrate his grand designs, 
but after a time the plot thickens, and in the end we are all of us, 
dear Brutus, held in some measure responsible for "the humilia 
tion that seared his soul." There is some justice in this dreadful 
world, though; for this "foul and shocking blow/' we are being 
suitably repaid In kind: 

Ever since the removal of MacArthur from a position of influence in 
Asia, Communism has progressively strengthened and become an in 
creasingly powerful threat to peace and freedom. 

There is authentic tragedy here as well as comedy, for the truth 
is that there are elements of greatness in Douglas MacArthur. 
He has served this country as a valorous and resourceful captain 
in the field and as a gifted proconsul. He has at times borne 
himself with splendor and shown himself capable of command 
ing abiding loyalties. I know an officer who served under him in 
the Pacific and is now one of the most Intelligent and imagina 
tive of American diplomatic strategists. He shares none of Mac- 
Arthur's views on matters of policy and at the same time hugely 
admires MacArthur the military campaigner. One gets a sense 
of greatness even from Whitney's preposterous book. A basically 
cloddish mind is moved to Imagination ("This, I thought, must 


have been what it was like in a tent in Gaul with Caesar; on the 
approaches to Cannae with Hannibal; on the plains before 
Guagamela with Alexander the Great . . .") and to massive 
recrimination by the spectacle of his commander's triumphs and 
misfortunes. Great soldiers are not the less great for having 
jejune views of history. Napoleon had a Napoleonic complex. 

Indeed, a distinction that one cannot take lightly is the very 
concern with policy that has led MacArthur into so many diffi 
culties. Whether the man is sensible or not in his political 
avouchments, he has never been a time-server, he has never been 
indifferent to the aims of the governments he has served. He has 
always, at least, cared. Liberals who have applauded the inde 
pendence and the concern with policy of officers like Billy 
Mitchell and Charles de Gaulle have been a good deal too facile 
in condemning MacArthur for insubordination which consisted 
in the main of taking his case to the public. What was wrong was 
not so much his public contentiousness as the case itself, the 
strategy he favored. Robert Clive was similarly mistaken, and so 
was Gordon of Khartoum, a man very much like MacArthur. 
There is in MacArthur, as there was in them, something of the 
"heaven-born general," to use Pitt's phrase for Clive, another 
prodigy, mystic, orator, and empire builder. 

Yet MacArthur, principally through his commitment to the 
conspiracy theory, insists on making himself ridiculous. Now, 
on top of the Whitney book, with its abundance of plots, he 
has come up with the superplot, involving Burgess and Maclean, 
and such is his prestige and the hunger of our Bolsheviks of 
the Right for conspiracies that the story has become a matter for 
serious public debate. To David Lawrence and to his U.S. News 
6- World Report, part of the matter is already beyond dispute. 
"It was these two men," U.S. News has said, "who helped to 
trigger the invasion by armies of Communist China at the mo 
ment of defeat for Soviet-armed North Koreans." This is Mac- 
Arthur's basic contention in these later days that the Chinese 
entered the war because they had been assured by Burgess and 
Maclean that we would engage them nowhere in Korea. His 
second proposition is that it was a reluctance on the part of the 
Truman administration to reveal the simple but ugly truth that 

257 The Wicked Conspiracy Against General Mac Arthur 

led to his removal by President Truman on April n, 1951. The 
editors of Life have regarded this as a plausible version of 
history, and the editors of the National Review find so much 
political promise in it that they wish to have it Investigated not 
by a mere committee, such as Senator Eastiand's, but by a "mixed 
commission . . . with members from Congress, the administra 
tion, and the public." 

It is characteristic of the mind in the grip of the conspiracy 
theory that It marshals argument untidily. Those who credit the 
new MacArthur story must do so either by faith In MacArthur 
himself or through a shared addiction to the theory. MacArthur 
Is the only man who has ever made a stab at finding logic In it 
or imposing logic upon It, and his facility with the syllogism Is 
far from all It might be. To stay with him even part of the way, 
one must concede that the Peiping government in 1950 was by 
one means or another being made privy to the discussions of 
American policy in the National Security Council and elsewhere, 
as well as to the decisions emerging from those deliberations. 
MacArthur himself has no difficulty In making this assumption, 
for to him It Is only reasonable to take It for granted that the 
Chinese Communists would never have been stupid enough to 
engage him In battle if they had not had "definite advance In 
formation that my hands would be tied." 

Only [he writes] if he were certain that we would continue to protect 
his bases and supply lines would a commander have dared to throw the 
full weight of the Chinese army in Korea. 

The Chinese could not have been serious (even in delusion) 
in calling us a "paper tiger," so long as they knew that Mac- 
Arthur was in command and had a free hand. But the tying of 
his hands made us in fact vulnerable. 

To some of us, It may appear that a Communist leader who 
took at face value "definite advance Information" on American 
strategy, which has been so consistently subject to abrupt change, 
would be well along the road to madness. If anyone even con 
templates making war against the United States, he should 
acknowledge that the beginning of wisdom is an acceptance of 
our unpredictability. There Is no such thing as "definite ad 
vance information" in matters of this sort- 


But MacArthur thinks otherwise, and so, taking for granted 
that the Chinese had received the necessary advance assurances, 
he thinks it necessary only to uncover the "links in the chain to 
our enemy in Korea through Peiping by way of Moscow." Why 
not, one wonders, direct to Peiping or perhaps, as some people 
believed a few weeks back, by way of London or New Delhi? 
This is not explained, but a firm conviction is stated: 

I myself have long been convinced that Red China's decision to com 
mit its forces to the Korean peninsula was predicated upon assurances 
previously given through Moscow that such intervention would not 
precipitate retaliation against its attack bases. 

Now to get Burgess and Maclean into the act: MacArthur 
makes a breath-taking leap from the enemy's knowledge of what 
was happening in Washington to his knowledge of what was 
going to happen in Korea, In theory, of course, what was hap 
pening in Washington should have been a reliable guide to what 
the American forces were going to do in Korea. But in fact a 
number of Americans and practically all Europeans had the 
feeling that perhaps one decision would be taken by President 
Truman and his advisers and another by General MacArthur. 
MacArthur, though, thinks everyone should have known better 
in the Whitney book, the notion that MacArthur was ever 
at any time insubordinate to civil authority is treated as too 
absurd to discuss and that the Chinese certainly did know 
better. (It is curious that MacArthur and Whitney consistently 
attribute sounder judgment to the Communists than to their ad 
versaries, himself, of course, excepted.) Someone, it follows, had 
tipped the Communists off. It now appears, according to Mac- 
Arthur, to have been Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. How 
does he know? MacArthur, in Life, has constructed what passes 
for a syllogism in the conspiracy school. "General [Walton] 
Walker," he says, "complained constantly to me that the enemy 
was receiving prior information of his movements." Plainly, if 
they had prior information, it, had to come from behind United 
Nations lines in Korea. Ordinary people might assume that, 
since there were plenty of spies in South Korea, what informa 
tion the Communists had was provided them by their own 

sjS? The Wicked Conspiracy Against General MacArthur 

agents behind the U.N. lines. MacArthur says this was not so. 
"We could find no leaks in Korea or Japan/' I MacArthur's 
intelligence and counter-intelligence directed by the redoubtable 
General Willoughby could not find any leaks, then there could 
not have been any. 

In time there was light. "Then suddenly, one of my dispatches 
concerning the order of battle was published in a Washington 
paper within a few hours of its receipt." He does not identify 
either the dispatch or the newspaper that printed it. He merely 
says: "I insisted that those responsible be prosecuted." Pre 
sumably he identified the guilty for the benefit of those he ex 
pected to undertake the prosecution. Fortunately, for unauthor 
ized persons and latecomers, the Whitney book throws some light. 
It identifies the offending newspaper as the Washington Post and 
explains that "on December 30, 1950 . . . one of MacArthur's 
top-secret dispatches on the order of battle was in part published 
verbatim . . . under the byline of a prominent columnist." A 
check of the Washington Post of that date reveals that the 
columnist was Drew Pearson, whose work appears in some six 
hundred newspapers here and abroad, and that Pearson that day 
published what purported to be a report from MacArthur's in 
telligence section dated December 6, 1950. MacArthur's "few 
hours" turn out to be 576 (give or take ten or twenty for time 
changes and publication schedules), and it was not precisely one 
of his "dispatches concerning the order of battle," but, on the 
contrary, a dispatch from General Willoughby on the Chinese 
order of battle. 

Still, there was a leak, rather a slow one, but nevertheless de 
plorable. Drew Pearson should not have had access to Wil- 
loughby's cables. Someone was responsible. Who? Burgess and 
Maclean, MacArthur now tells us. How come? MacArthur does 
not withhold the answer, though he gives it in question form: 

If they did not report to their Kremlin masters fully upon our secrets 
in the conduct of the war against the Communists in Korea, what then 
could have been their treasonable purpose? 

What indeed? Any good Communist spy would report anything 
he knew about the Korean war. If he got hold of news about 


United Nations troop movements, naturally he would pass it 
on, in glee and triumph. And he would also report what our side 
knew about his side. But would he report to Drew Pearson? Was 
Pearson one of Burgess and Maclean's "Kremlin masters"? This 
is not gone into nor does MacArthur cast any light on what was 
going on in the White House, the Pentagon, or the National 
Security Council. Somebody must have leaked to Burgess and 
Maclean before Burgess and Maclean could leak to Pearson. 

MacArthur, incidentally, writes as if Burgess and Maclean 
were both in Washington at the time of the Chinese intervention. 
Maclean was in the Foreign Office in London; he had become 
head of the American desk on November 6, 1950, and no doubt 
he was receiving some British intelligence and some highly edu 
cated guesses about American policy and plans. Burgess was in 
fact in Washington. But it is doubtful if he was getting tran 
scripts of N.S.C. proceedings within a matter of hours. And it 
was manifestly impossible for him to have been told the outcome 
of discussions that had no outcome. The truth is that on Decem 
ber 6, 1950, we had no settled policy on what we would do 
on the Yalu. The issue was under discussion not only in Wash 
ington but at the United Nations in New York. There may have 
been a tentative American position a decision on what this 
country would do if agreement with other powers could be 
reached and if the military conditions were right. But there is 
always a great gulf between decisions of this sort and the policy 
that is in time pursued. After all, we once had a policy in which 
Korea was held to be outside our defense perimeter. Dean 
Acheson has taken the rap for making it public, but MacArthur 
accepted it and was not averse to discussing it with newspaper 
men.* In any case, when the Thirty-eighth Parallel was breached, 

* As early as March 1949, he had told the British newspaperman G. Ward 
Price that "Our line of defense runs through the chain of islands fringing 
the coast of Asia. It starts from the Philippines and continues through the 
Ryukyu archipelago, which includes its main bastion, Okinawa. Then it 
bends back through Japan and the Aleutian Island chain to Alaska. Though 
the advance of the Red Armies in China places them on the flank of that 
position, this does not alter the fact that our only possible adversary on the 
Asiatic continent does not possess an industrial base near enough to supply 
an amphibious attacking force." By our "main adversary," he could only at 
that time have meant the Soviet Union. 

241 The Wicked Conspiracy Against General MacArthur 

we reversed the policy. That is how things go in the real world. 
Men say they will do one thing and then do another. If the 
Chinese Communists, having seen us throw one policy decision 
to the winds, placed complete confidence in another, their sense 
of reality could not have been as formidable as some of us as 
sumed it to be. They might have found the reports from Burgess 
and Maclean interesting, provided there were any such reports, 
but they would have been mighty foolish Communists to have 
put any stock in them. But then they are no more exempt 
from foolishness than we are. 

The Pearson incident is the central one in MacArthur's render 
ing of the history of 1950 and 1951. It proves, retroactively, that 
Burgess and Maclean told the Chinese they would have a romp 
if they entered the war. Burgess and Maclean told Drew Pearson, 
ergo they told Mao Tse-tung. (It is hard to explain why he does 
not avail himself of almost infallible logic: They were Com 
munists, ergo they told Mao Tse-tung.) MacArthur explains 
that when he could find "no leak" in his own theater, he promptly 
recommended that "a treason trial be initiated to break up [the] 
spy ring responsible for the purloining of my secret reports to 
Washington." (This is a beautiful example of how the mind 
obsessed by conspiracy works. He concedes that he did not know 
who "purloined*' the reports until years later. He wanted a trial 
before there were suspects a trial of a "ring." As it turned out, 
the putative defendants had diplomatic immunity.) And he goes 
on: "I believe that my demand that this situation [there is no 
antecedent for the "this"] be exposed, coming after the Alger 
Hiss and Harry Dexter White scandals caused the deepest resent 
ment. [The] case was never processed, and I was shortly relieved 
of my command." 

And after him, the deluge. 



Privacy and the Claims of Community 


IT is REPEATEDLY asserted by solicitous groups and individuals 
that the right of privacy described once by Mr. Justice Brandeis 
as the "right to be let alone . . the most comprehensive of 
rights and the right most valued by civilized men" is in sorry 
shape in this Republic today. The evidence is impressive. Wire 
tapping is epidemic; even where it is illegal, it flourishes, and 
some authorities believe that the number of telephones being 
monitored on any given day runs into the hundreds of thousands. 
"Bugging," the use of concealed electronic devices by absentee 
eavesdroppers, is an almost universal practice among policemen, 
private detectives, and both public and private investigators. 
People describing themselves as "investigators" are as numerous 
and as pestiferous, it often seems, as flies in late September. Each 
day, more and more of us are required to tell agencies of govern 
ment more and more about ourselves; and each melancholy day, 
government agencies are telling more and more about us. Some 
one in the F.B.I. not J. Edgar Hoover, certainly, but someone 
slips a "raw'* file to a favored congressman; the President 
instincts the Bureau of Internal Revenue to turn over income-tax 
returns to an investigating committee; the Defense Department 
gives medical records to an insurance adjuster. The existence of 
the files, apart from their disclosure, may itself be regarded as a 
violation of privacy; we are compelled to leave bits and pieces 
of ourselves in many places where we would just as soon not be. 
Broadly speaking, invasions of privacy are of two sorts, both on 
the increase. There are those, like wire tapping and bugging and 
disclosure of supposedly confidential documents, that could con- 



ceivably be dealt with by changes in law or public policy. Then 
there axe those that appear to be exercises of other rights for 
example, freedom of speech, of the press, of inquiry. A news 
paper reporter asks an impertinent personal question; the 
prospective employer of a friend wishes to know whether the 
friend has a happy sex life; a motivational researcher wishes to 
know what we have against Brand B deodorant; a magazine 
wishing to lure more advertisers asks us to fill out a questionnaire 
on our social, financial, and intellectual status. Brandeis' "right 
to be let alone" is unique in that it can be denied us by the 
powerless as well as by the powerful by a teen-ager with a 
portable radio as well as by a servant of the law armed with 
a subpoena. 

Most of those who publicly lament the decline of privacy 
talk as if they believe that the causes are essentially political; 
they seem to feel that enemies of individual rights are conspiring 
to destroy privacy just as certain of them have sought, in recent 
years, to destroy the right to avoid self-incrimination. Some also 
see privacy eroding as a consequence of a diminishing respect 
for it. I think there may be something in both points, although 
a good deal less in the first than in the second; but it seems 
to me that the really important causes lie elsewhere in our 
advancing technology and in the growing size and complexity of 
our society. Until the early part of this century, the right of 
privacy was seldom invoked. Though its broadest and most 
binding guarantee is in the Fourth Amendment to the Consti 
tution, which affirms "the right of the people to be secure in 
their persons, houses, papers and effects" and prohibits unreason 
able searches and seizures, it was not until 1905 that a court 
squarely upheld the right of privacy. The jurisdiction was Geor 
gia, and the court laid it down as a common-law proposition that 
"the right of privacy has its foundations in the instincts of 
nature." In a thinly populated land, with government touching 
only lightly on the everyday lives of citizens and with a technol 
ogy so primitive that people had to depend on their own eyes 
and ears to know what others were up to, men armed with the 
Fourth Amendment and with the squirrel gun pennitted them 
under the Second Amendment could pretty well attend to their 

247 Privacy and the Claims of Community 

own privacy. Mostly, one supposes, it was not thought of as a 
"right" to be protected but as a condition of life cherished by 
some and merely accepted by others. 

But then came the camera, the telephone, the graduated income 
tax, and later the tape recorder, the behavioral scientist, tele 
vision (now being used to follow us as we move about super 
markets and department stores as a kind of radar for the light- 
fingered), the professional social worker, "togetherness/* and a 
host of other developments that are destructive of privacy as a 
right and as a condition. Soundproofing is the only technological 
contribution I can think of that has been an aid to the right to 
be let alone. The rest have lent themselves to invasions of privacy, 
and the end is not yet in sight. Wire tapping, for example, is 
now in the process of being fully automated; where formerly 
the number of phones that could be tapped was limited by 
the number of personnel that could be assigned to sitting around 
all day waiting for a conversation to intercept, today innumerable 
phones can be monitored entirely by machines. Someday, no 
doubt, we shall be spied upon from space platforms equipped 
with television cameras. And all this time the welfare state has 
been developing in the main, of course, as a response to 
technology. It may be that a disrespect for privacy has been on 
the increase, too, but what is certain is that those of a trespassing 
inclination are infinitely better equipped today and have infi 
nitely more excuses for their incursions. I rather think this is the 
essential thing, for I believe that if the Georgia court was 
correct in saying that the "instincts of nature" provided founda 
tions for the right of privacy, the same thing may also be 
cited as a source of motive power for those who assume the 
right to violate privacy. Was it not the late Senator McCarthy 
who screamed bloody murder when the Post Office Department 
ran a "mail cover" on his correspondence? (In a mail cover, 
postal officials do not open mail but examine envelopes and 
wrappings with a view to learning the identity of a victim's 
correspondents.) No doubt his outrage was as genuine as it was 
noisy. There is a hermit spirit in each of us, and also a snooper, 
a census taker, a gossipmonger, and a brother's keeper. 

Technology has forced the surrender of a measure of privacy 


in many different ways. It may be a man's business whether he 
drinks or not, but if he wishes to drive a car or fly an airplane or 
perform brain operations, society's need to inquire into his 
drinking habits must surely override his right to privacy in this 
serious matter. Government is society's instrument in such 
affairs, and the more responsibilities we saddle it with, the more 
we require it to take a hand in our lives. If we wish it to protect 
us against quacks, frauds, swindlers, maniacs, and criminals, we 
must give it powers of prosecution, punishment, and licensing. 
We can be reasonably certain that its tendency will be to go too 
far (the American Civil Liberties Union reports with distress 
that in some places tile layers must now be licensed by public 
authority), but we may indeed, it seems to me that most of us 
do judge its excesses to be less dangerous than complete 
laissez faire or laissez passer. Technology has made us all a great 
deal more dependent upon one another than we ever were in 
the past and necessarily, therefore, less able to protect our own 
privacy. Once we could labor alone now there is a division of 
labor which relates my work to yours. Once we traveled alone 
now our mobility is collectivized, and while we have a legiti 
mate concern over the habits of the man at the controls, whose 
private life we find it necessary to investigate, we also constitute 
ourselves a captive audience and a group of hostages to those in 
whom the instincts of nature that lead to compulsive trespassing 
are more powerful than those that make sometime recluses of 
us all. 

In my view, it gains us nothing to denounce J. Edgar Hoover 
or those who descend to what Mr. Justice Holmes called the 
"dirty business" of wire tapping or even to expend rhetoric on 
the death of solitude in our kind of civilization, as William 
Faulkner now and then does when he feels himself affronted by 
the attentions of the press and the public. If there is any way at 
all out of the fish bowl, it will be found only by facing some hard 
facts of life today. For one thing, there is no stopping the tech 
nology that extends our senses by wires and waves and electrical 
impulses. For another, it is difficult if, indeed, it is possible to 
distinguish, morally and practically, between the use of these 
devices and the use of the senses unaided. I think that wire 

249 Privacy and the Claims of Community 

tapping is a dirty business, but I am not sure that I can find 
much logic to support my belief so long as I am willing to 
countenance the older, unmechanized ways by which society 
apprehends criminals. What is the moral difference between 
tapping a telephone wire and straining one's ears to overhear a 
conversation believed by the participants to be private? What is 
the moral difference between putting an ear to a keyhole and 
bugging a room? Or between using any and all bugging devices 
and planting spies and informers in the underworld? Or between 
carrying a concealed tape recorder to an interview and carrying 
a concealed plan to commit to memory as much of the talk as the 
memory can retain? Society needs detectives, or so at least I 
believe, and the means they employ have never been lovely and 
have almost always involved the violation of privacy. Society 
does a lot of dirty business. 

So far as morality is concerned, I doubt If a valid distinction 
can be made between primitive and advanced techniques. But a 
practical distinction can be made, and in fact has been made 
(wire tapping is either outlawed or restricted by law In every 
American jurisdiction), and the rationale Is not very different 
from that which proscribes mechanical devices in most sports. 
Whether or not wire tapping is dirty business in the Holmesian 
sense, it is dirty pool, and this applies, or soon will, one suspects, 
to most other gadgets. It may be no more immoral than other 
means used for the same end any more than killing with 
thermonuclear weapons is more immoral than killing with a 
club but somehow the advantage it gives to the police side 
is offensive to sportsmanship, and the numbers that can be bagged 
by automated spying, like the numbers that can be killed by a 
hydrogen bomb, make it seem more offensive to our humanity. 
Against this, It can be argued that crime and subversion have 
also benefited by science and that their adversaries should not 
have to fight a horse cavalry war against them. But the fact of 
the matter is that it Is not narcotics peddlers whose privacy has 
been more efficiently violated by the use of the new techniques; 
the net has not been drawn tighter against society's enemies it 
has simply been spread for a larger catch. And here another 
practical distinction can be made, even though a moral one comes 


hard. It Is one thing to deceive and trap a dope pusher by almost 
any means available, and quite another to tap the phone of, 
let us say, a philanthropic foundation on the chance of turning 
up a relationship between It and some citizen of a heretical turn 
of mind. To be sure, the underworld members of the Apalachin 
rally have every bit as much right to privacy as the president of, 
say, the Fund for the Republic. But the law in its wisdom has 
found a way to draw a line between the two without denying 
their equality; this is the doctrine of "probable cause/' embodied 
as the condition for seizure and arrest In the same Fourth 
Amendment that keeps most of us out of the broad net of 
policemen merely fishing for evidence in our homes and among 
our papers and effects. 

It seems to me that it is by no means too late for law and 
public policy to deal with violations of privacy that are under 
taken by zealous guardians of the peace and the public order. 
In all probability, wire tapping and the many forms of bugging 
can never be wholly eliminated, even where they are outlawed 
and the penalties for their use are severe; they suit the police 
mentality too well, and they may be easily employed without 
fear of detection. Moreover, there are circumstances in which 
even the most ardent civil libertarians would be forced to 
approve their use. But the third degree and the rubber truncheon 
also suit the police mentality, and free societies have managed to 
reduce their use to a point where they are not regarded as essen 
tial characteristics of the machinery of law enforcement. Probable 
cause, with high standards for the determination of probability, 
would seem a basic safeguard against present excesses. Another 
would be an extension of the rule of the inadmissibility of wire 
tap evidence; this, of course, is the rule in the federal courts 
today, and it has not stopped the F.B.I, and God knows how 
many other government agencies from tapping wires in the 
hope of learning where admissible evidence may be turned up. 
But there is no reason why the rule of inadmissibility might not 
be strengthened in such a way as to give ordinary criminal 
defendants a chance at acquittals and reversals whenever the 
prosecution's case has been made by playing dirty pool. The 
police, like merchants, do not care for profitless ventures, and 

2$i Privacy and the Claims of Community 

somewhere, no doubt, there is a point at which most of the 
profit can be taken out of the indiscriminate wire tapping and 
bugging that is being employed today. Mr. Justice Murphy used 
to say that there was no means of preserving the liberties of 
citizens so efficacious as making the denial of those liberties 
disadvantageous to the police power. 

Nothing will be done, however, along this line unless a 
certain amount of public pressure builds up against a catch-as- 
catch-can view of law enforcement and in defense of the right 
of privacy. And even if abuses of the police power were checked, 
we would be left with all those invasions that are the work not 
of the police power, but of other public authorities and of a 
multitude of private ones. Here, as I see it, we encounter 
problems far knottier than those posed by technology in the 
service of law and order. We were willed a social order 
dedicated to the sovereignty of the individual but, again thanks 
mainly to technology, dependent for its functioning largely on 
the interdependence of lives. My behavior affects my neighbor 
in a hundred ways undreamed of a century ago. My home is 
joined to his by pipes and cables, by tax and insurance rates. If 
my labor is not immediately dependent on his, it is on that of 
other men down the street and across the continent. When I 
move about, my life is at my neighbor's mercy and his, of 
course, at mine. I may build a high fence, bolt the doors, draw 
the blinds, and insist that my time to myself is mine alone, but 
his devices for intrusion are limitless. My privacy can be invaded 
by a ringing telephone as well as by a tapped one. It can be 
invaded by an insistent community that seeks to shame me into 
getting up off my haunches to do something for the P.-T.A. or 
town improvement or the American Civil Liberties Union 
possibly, for this worthy organization, making a survey of 
invasions of privacy. My "right to be let alone" is a right I may 
cherish and from time to time invoke, but it is not a right favored 
by the conditions of the life I lead and am, by and large, pleased 
to be leading. If I were to think of it as any sort of absolute 
right, I would be as blind to the world about me as those who 
used to believe that the United States could assert and by itself 
defend its right to be let alone. No kind of sovereignty has ever 


been absolute, but in the last century or so the decline has been 

The meaningful invasions that are a consequence of the con 
dition of our lives are, to be sure, those undertaken more or 
less in the name of the whole community: by organs of govern 
ment other than the police, by the press, by education, by 
business. Against them, the law can offer few defenses without 
denying other freedoms and committing new invasions of privacy. 
The press has a right to describe Nathan Leopold's release from 
prison; whether it will exercise that right in the face of eloquent 
pleas not to do so is a matter of conscience and taste. In general, 
our rule is that those who lead part of their lives in public 
politicians, entertainers, writers, and others, including celebrated 
criminal defendants, who court the public favor in one way or 
another have forfeited the right to invoke the common-law 
doctrine that "a person who unreasonably and seriously inter 
feres with another's interest in not having his affairs known to 
others ... Is liable to the other." In England, Randolph 
Churchill may raise the roof because the press is, in his view, 
too nosey about the private life of Princess Margaret, but liere 
there would be no one to defend the proposition that the press 
and public should be kept in the dark about the President's 
health, as the British public was once kept in the dark about the 
health of Randolph Churchill's father. And the same tests of 
public interest and relevance that apply in the community of 
the nation apply in every subcommunity. To a degree, we can 
control our privacy by controlling our mode of existence, and 
if we can never retain anything like complete mastery, we can 
at least attempt an approach to it. But the costs are heavy and 
to many, probably most, Americans excessive. 

It is common for Europeans to say that privacy will die in 
America because we care nothing about it. "An American has 
no sense of privacy/' Bernard Shaw wrote. "He does not know 
what it means. There is no such thing in the country." Foreign 
ers frequently profess to be scandalized by American institutions 
that seem to them destructive of the very idea of privacy the 
standard sleeping car, for instance, and the now ubiquitous port 
able radio. Alistair Cooke has said that while in England good 

^53 Privacy and the Claims of Community 

manners consist in not Intruding oneself upon others, here they 
consist In being tolerant of those who lead their private life In 
public and remaining a good sport about all noisy intrusions. I 
think the differences are real but insignificant. The British may 
piously talk of the royal family's right to privacy, but their 
gutter press makes more lives miserable than ours does. The 
French set great store by privacy, but they allow their police 
a license that Americans would never tolerate. (The French 
police operate on the theory that their work would be quite 
impossible If they were not allowed to run mail covers, ransack 
telegraph files, and tap wires.) We are perhaps the most gregari 
ous and community-minded of people and have developed social 
and technological interdependence further than any other, but 
it is still, I think, universally acknowledged that the man who 
tells another to "mind your own business" has justice on his 
side and speaks the common law. We are all in the same fix, 
and we all have to strike the same balance between our need for 
others and our need for ourselves alone. 

The Interlocking Overlappers and 
Some Further Thoughts on the 
'Tower Situation" 


c. WRIGHT MILLS is a distinguished American sociologist who finds 
American society as presently organized an inferior piece of 
work. In The Power Elite, he says that our political life is 
managed by "crackpot realists" who have "constructed a paranoid 
reality all their own." What these men do, at home and abroad, 
is crazy. Almost nothing about our civilization, a term he would 
find unwarranted, seems admirable to him. American democracy 
is form without substance. American culture is jejune, inane. 
American education? Nothing more or less than a racket to train, 
and/or condition, people for industry, commerce, or the state at 
public expense. He will not even praise our technology he says 
they make better things in Germany and England. From bottom 
to top, as Mills sees it, American life is pretty much of a fraud. 
The American public is rapidly turning into a jellied American 
"mass." The people nowadays exist only to be manipulated. 
Mills is certain he knows who does the manipulating, and how, 
and why. The "power elite" runs the country. It is "an inter 
locking directorate" drawn from among the leading figures in 
three spheres: the corporate, the political, and the military. It 
is "an intricate set of overlapping cliques [who] share decisions 
having at least national consequences. In so far as national 
events are decided, the power elite are those who decide them." 
He is persuaded that all the really important "events" are 

^55 The Interlocking Overlappers 

As a sociologist, Mills is scornful of ideology, which he regards 
as a minor function of "position" and "interest." He insists that 
he is not constructing an ideological system of his own but merely 
a method of analysis. Nevertheless, he may be thought of, at 
least in terms of one of his own functions, as a reviser of Marx 
ism. Some men hunger for theory as for salt, and those who do 
and yet see the inadequacies of Marxism will find in Millsism 
a doctrine that satisfies many of their yearnings. Although Mills 
offers it not as an explanation of all historical reality but merely 
of the present reality in the United States, it imposes order on 
seeming chaos; it provides a key to the mysteries, a plot for the 
story, a dramatis personae. He nourishes the precious sense of 
victimization. His world, like Marx's, is riven. It consists of the 
shearers and the shorn, the exploiters and the exploited, those 
who have and those who are had. The slaves are pretty much 
the same, but the masters are different or, at any rate, more 
varied in function and origin. Mills thinks the Marxist term 
"ruling class" won't do for our time. " 'Class* is an economic term; 
'rule' a political one. The phrase . . . thus contains the theory 
that an econC'mic class rules politically." He thinks the contained 
theory is two-thirds wrong for the United States at the present 
time. It leaves out the political and military orders, which are 
of roughly equal importance. Anyway, the members of his "in 
terlocking directorate" are "commanders of power unequalled in 
human history." 

Millsism offers no comforting dialectic. It offers explanation 
but no remedy, even through bloody revolution. Unlike Marx, 
Mills perceives no significant amount of social tension. If there 
ever was a "struggle," it is all over now. He thinks that the 
"mass" is intuitively and quite cynically aware of "the power 
situation," but it is not greatly troubled by its awareness. It is 
not in revolt. The conservative fears of de Tocqueville and 
Ortega y Gasset were unfounded. "The bottom of this society," 
he says, "is politically fragmented . . . and increasingly power 
less. . . . [The] masses in their full development are sovereign 
only in some plebiscitarian moment of adulation to an elite as 
authoritative celebrity." I think that by this last sentence he 
means that the people are given the illusion of sovereignty by 


being allowed to vote for President Eisenhower every four years 
and by being kept up to date on the doings of Rita Hayworth 
and Grace Kelly. All this is demoralizing. 

I believe that Mills' book is at its core mistaken. I also believe 
it is symptomatic and important. It has some solid merits, and 
these must be acknowledged. By far the greater part of The 
Power Elite is descriptive. There is, as Daniel Bell has pointed 
out, a Balzacian texture in Mills' accounts of the lives of repre 
sentative Americans. When Mills is not choked with indignation 
and disgust, he commands a strong and vivid satirical style. More 
over, I think he is fairly close to being right in his judgments of 
where the power centers of our society are. He is on solid ground 
in arguing that there is an almost autonomous political directo 
rate in this country today. It is not as unified as he seems to think, 
but on what he calls the "big decisions," the big men of rival 
factions hammer out agreements that give continuity to major 
foreign and domestic policies. (Less hostile critics sometimes point 
to this fact as a reflection of the "stability" of American society, 
an expression of "consensus.") I .am not so sure that the military 
can be set apart from either the corporate or political elements 
as easily as Mills thinks they can, but there is no doubt that in 
the postwar years, the military establishment has played a huge 
and at least semiautonomous role in American life and govern 
ment. I believe that the power elite has some important members 
Mills does not recognize drawn in part from the "public" he 
believes has disappeared, in part from the intelligentsia he re 
gards as powerless, in part from the technological and managerial 
classes. Still and all, Mills' view of the basic elements in the 
power structure is, I think, reasonably sound. What seem to me 
to be absurd and destructive are his assumptions and conclusions 
about what power is and how it is wielded. He devotes relatively 
little space to this, but it is a central matter, and when he does 
deal with it he is forthright. His view is summed up in this 

The course of events in our time depends more on a series of human 
decisions than on any inevitable fate. ... As the circle of those who 
decide is narrowed, as the means of decision are centralized, and the 
consequences of decisions become enormous, then the course of great 

257 The Interlocking Overlapped 

events often rests upon the decisions of determinable circles. . . . [The] 
pivotal moment does arrive, and at that moment small circles do decide 
or fail to decide. In either case, they are an elite of power. The drop 
ping of A-bombs over Japan was such a moment; the decision on 
Korea was such a moment; the confusion about Quemoy and Matsu, 
as well as before Dien Bien Phu were such moments; the sequence of 
maneuvers which involved the United States in World War II was such 
a "moment" Is it not true that the history of our times is composed 
of such moments? 

It Is indeed true that the history of our time Is quite largely 
composed of such "moments." They are not the whole story, 
of course; history is also the passage o time, the accumulation of 
knowledge and anxieties, the development of creeds and institu 
tions, and everlasting change some of it planned and intended 
and more or less directed, some of it wholly unforeseen and 
probably wholly unforeseeable. But the moments Mills men 
tions (all of them, interestingly, having to do with war) were 
important and they were pivotal. Is it reasonable, though, to 
believe, as Mills does, that "the warlords, the corporate chief 
tains, and [the] political directorate" determined the Ameri 
can responses? I think it is demonstrably unreasonable except 
just possibly in the case of our entry Into World War II, an 
"event" made of such an "uncountable totality" of other events 
(to use a phrase of Sir Isaiah Berlin's) that it would be as difficult 
to demonstrate that the "decision" was not made by a particular 
group as to determine that it was. The other instances reveal, I 
think, the essential inadequacy of Mills' doctrine, and I shall 
attempt to show how they do so:* 

* The literature of these events has, of course, grown enormously in the five 
years since this piece was published in The Progressive. In the late fall of 1961, 
for example, we have had yet another account of the decision to use the 
atomic bomb Robert C. Batchelder's The Irreversible Decision. A few 
months back, Sherman Adams 1 First-Hand Report, discussed elsewhere in 
this volume, appeared with some new material on Quemoy and Matsu and 
Dienbienphu. I have not read everything In the field, but I have read 
quite a bit, and I have come upon nothing that would cause me to alter 
the substance of my original comments on Mills' four "moments/' In the 
passages dealing with them, I have not used any of the new material either 
to qualify what I wrote in 1956 or to amplify it by documentation. For my 
purposes here, the original text suffices. The paragraph on Hiroshima and 
Nagasaki is based on my reading of the written history available at the time 


HIROSHIMA AND NAGASAKI: In the first place, very few members 
of the power elite knew there was any atomic bomb to be dropped 
or not dropped. Harry Truman has taken full personal as well 
as Constitutional responsibility for the decision. Though it must 
have been about as solitary an act of mind and will as any in 
history, we can acknowledge that no man ever acts wholly on 
his own wholly unaffected, that is, by his immediate environ 
ment and by all that has gone into the making of the human 
being he is. In this case, Truman received a certain amount 
of advice from an ad hoc committee organized by Henry L. 
Stimson, a certifiable member of the power elite. (Stimson was 
an "overlapping clique" within his own person, being part of 
the corporate power of the nation, part of the political directo 
rate, and, as Secretary of War and a former officer, a high figure 
in the military command.) Also, Winston Churchill and Joseph 
Stalin, a pair of foreigners, were consulted and ratified the 
decision in advance. (It is not clear that Stalin knew what he was 
ratifying, though if we are to believe Senator McCarthy, he 
knew at least as much about the atomic bomb as Harry Truman.) 
Truman, however, reports in his memoirs that he was decisively 
influenced by the opinions of the nuclear physicists whom he 
consulted or who were consulted in his behalf by the Secretary 
of War. According to Mills, physicists as intellectuals are power 
less in our society and physicists as technicians are mere servants 
of the corporations and the military establishment. It is possible, 
to be sure, that Truman is no more accurate an appraiser of the 
origins of his own behavior than Mills is. But he is surely a bit 
closer to the source, and in the absence of compelling evidence 
to the contrary, one must, it seems to me, accept his account. 
At all odds, the first atomic bombs were dropped on the authority 
of one man who was the beneficiary of very sketchy advice from 
a handful of other men, most of whom were not, in Mills' terms, 
"commanders of power/* In the nature of the case, it was quite 
impossible for any "intricate set of overlapping cliques" to have 
had much to do with this huge decision. 

I wrote. In discussing the other events, I have drawn mainly on information 
I acquired as a reporter in Washington when the "events" (I recoil from the 
word but use it for want of a better) occurred. 

^-59 The Interlocking Overlappers 

KOREA: The decision to intervene was made in the course of a 
few hours by a very few men, hastily assembled to meet an un 
anticipated crisis. Earlier, some of the same men had determined 
that the national interest did not call for the defense of Korea. 
Some of those involved in both decisions could be regarded as 
Important agents of the power elite. (There were no representa 
tives of corporate power whose advice was asked or who proffered 
it unasked.) Those members of the government* who met with 
President Truman on June 24, 1950 were not in the beginning 
agreed on what the American response should be. Some differ 
ences were overcome during the meeting, some were tabled. The 
President again exercised a good deal of Independent judgment, 
which is what a President is paid to do. It is interesting to note 
that the "decision" could not really have been an effective one 
if it had not been for a circumstance which the power elite could 
not possibly have arranged the providential boycott by the 
Soviet Union of the United Nations Security Council. 

QUEMOY AND MATS!): Mills speaks of the "confusions" about 
Quemoy and Matsu as a "moment" of "decision." In another 
passage, he makes it clear that what he has in mind are the feeble 
commitments the Eisenhower administration made to the Chi 
nese Nationalists early in 1955 in our treaty with the Republic 
of China and in Public Law 4, a Congressional resolution that 
authorized the President to take certain actions in the Formosa 
Straits which he was already empowered to take by the Con 
stitution. The situation, briefly, was this: to honor campaign 
pledges and to appease the Asla-firsters, the administration had 

* It Is, I think, worth pointing out that they were agreed on the general 
framework of policy and strategy. The guidelines had been laid down in the 
late forties by the Policy Planning Commission, headed by George F. Kennan, 
whom Mills describes in The Power Elite as "a distinguished student of 
foreign affairs." Most members of Kennan's staff were public servants with 
highly acceptable credentials as intellectuals. They may, of course, have 
tailored their own thinking to that of the power elite. I am rather inclined 
to think that they, with the help of the President, forced their views upon 
the interlocking directorate. After General MacArtfmr's recall in 1951, there 
was a fearful brawl over the ends of American policy, and the power elite 
seemed split and not split down the middle, for there was surely more 
corporate, political, and military power for General MacArthur than against 
him. He lost. The views developed by Kennan and his staff prevailed. 


to put out some loud and lofty rhetoric affirming its undying 
solidarity with Chiang Kai-shek; to honor reason and to avoid 
outraging our allies, the rhetoric had to be gutted, and It was. 
The treaty and the resolution committed the United States to 
the defense of Formosa, as the home and habitation of the 
Republic of China, and pledged the Republic of China not to 
attempt the reconquest of its former home and habitation on the 
mainland. (In the treaty, Chiang agreed to "refrain from the 
threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the pur 
poses of the United Nations.") As for Quemoy and Matsu, they 
would be defended by the United States only in the event, 
according to Public Law 4, that an attack on them had been 
determined, by the President of the United States, to be pre 
liminary to an attack on Formosa. 

Many members of the power elite, including all but one of 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried to argue the President into a more 
militant position. They failed. The reality is quite different from 
what Mills supposes it to be. The basic decision taken by this 
government was to make an act of disengagement sound like a 
declaration of engagement. Once again, it was, or seemed to most 
people at the time to be, a victory of the political arm of the 
power elite over its military and corporate arms. 

DIENBIENPHU: Here is perhaps the oddest case of all. There is 
not much doubt that the power elite, to the extent that it had 
a single will and a single voice, wished the United States to 
intervene in Indochina, at the time of this critical battle.* At 
one time or another, the President, the Vice-President, the Secre 
tary of State, and, again, all but one of the Joint Chiefs favored 
an effort to rescue the French. Among influential people gener 
ally, only a few were opposed, openly at any rate. Yet the decision 
that really counted was the one taken against the better judgment 
of the Washington representatives of the power elite to stay 
out of the war. 

"It was no historical necessity," Mills writes, "but an argu 
ment within a small circle of men that defeated Admiral [Arthur 

* I am speaking here of the political and military branches. On matters 
of strategy the corporate branch often seems to lack a position. I doubt if it 
had one on Dienbienphu. 

2<5i The Interlocking Overlappers 

W.] Radford's proposal to bomb troops before Dien Bien Phu." 
"Historical necessity" is a term Mills constantly uses to cover any 
determinism or antideterminism that may be opposed to his 
own view. He uses it as a punching bag the way certain ma 
terialist and positivist philosophers use "idealism" or "romanti 
cism/' In this context, I suppose he means that it was not histori 
cally inevitable that things turned out as they did and that an 
"argument" turning on calculations of power, logistics, the 
strengths and weaknesses of alliances, and strategic priorities 
settled the question. To those of us who tried to understand the 
decisions and indecisions of the time, however, it appeared that 
"public opinion/' a force of negligible significance in the Millsian 
system, was of decisive importance. At the start of the controversy, 
not only the technicians of diplomacy and military power 
within the administration, but a Congressional majority seemed 
agreeable to the administration view. Some members supported 
it publicly; hardly any opposed it. Then John Foster Dulles went 
off to Europe to see what arrangements he could make with the 
British and the French. During his absence, something that can, 
for the purposes of the moment anyway, be described as "public 
opinion" began to take shape. The House of Representatives 
went into a brief recess. Congressmen returning from the prov 
inces began to report that the people were anything but keen on 
saving Indochina from the Communists. Within a week or ten 
days, it became almost impossible to find a congressman who 
favored sending "American boys" to Indochina to smash Com 
munism there. Admiral Radford was as much in favor of inter 
vention as he had ever been, but now not even Senator William 
F. Knowland, of California, could be induced to declare flatly 
in favor of it. The affair began to take on some new dimensions 
as a result of the difficulties Dulles met with in London and 
Paris, but it is doubtful if these affected the basic American 
decision. What did affect it, so far as one could gather in Wash 
ington, was the attitude of what Mills describes as the "atomized 
and submissive" masses, who, Congressmen discovered while snif 
fing at the grass roots during the Easter holidays, were not at all 
well disposed to the idea of a shooting war in Indochina. It was 
recalled by shrewd Republican politicians that the Eisenhower 


administration's one great popular triumph had been in negotiat 
ing an end to the Korean war. The same administration would 
lose the political advantage thus gained if it led the country into 
another bloody jungle war. The masses, it seemed, were on this 
occasion sovereign. 

Mills anticipates his critics and dismisses most of them as 
obscurantists who see "the power situation ... as a romantic 
confusion." Behind his use of "romantic," there seems to lie the 
implication that those who see "the power situation" as charac 
terized by confusion rather want to see it that way and find 
history more entertaining and less demanding intellectually and 
morally when they can regard it as mysterious. He charges them 
with believing that "history goes on behind men's backs." For 
my own part, I find the power situation confusing but hardly 
romantic. It is confusing because it is obviously compounded of 
many elements which are difficult to isolate, classify, and weigh. 
I do not believe that history goes on behind men's backs if 
"behind men's backs" means beyond their field of vision. His 
tory is the life of the community of men within the framework of 
time. It goes on all about us and among us, sometimes within our 
sight and comprehension, sometimes especially when crucial 
"decisions" are being made by those with the power to make 
them beyond them. The truth about it is not, I should think, 
undiscoverable. I believe with E. H. Carr that "human actions 
have causes which are in principle ascertainable." But I believe 
that the truth remains largely undiscovered, largely unascer 
tained, and it seems to me no more obscurantist to say this than 
to say that the laws of the psyche continue to be somewhat 
mysterious. Whether they will remain that way forever or only 
for a short while longer is not the point. The point is that they 
are in large part mysterious today and so is history, if for no 
other reason than that the causes of human action that "are in 
principle ascertainable" have yet to be fully ascertained. 

It seems to me that it is the cocksure approach of people like 
Mills that is basically obscurantist and hostile to the spirit of 
objective inquiry and the traditions of the questing intellect. 
Mills takes a series of perceptions some of them very sharp and 
useful about American society and fashions them into a law of 

2^3 The Interlocking Overlappers 

that society's operations. No attempt is made at an empirical 
testing of the law's soundness of its value, that is to say, in ac 
counting for observable developments. He does not examine the 
"decisions" he cites to show us how they reveal the decisive 
influence of the power elite. All that he tells us is that "a com 
pact and powerful elite . . . does now prevail in America/' If 
it "prevails," then, it follows, according to Mills' logic, that the 
"big decisions" are attributable to it. But of course it is by no 
means proved that it does "prevail" in this sense. The only possi 
ble way of determining whether it is what Mills says it is would 
be by examining the decisions themselves, which Mills never does. 
I would suppose that if a man working in any of the physical 
sciences offered a doctrine of cause and effect in this way, he 
would be hooted out of the academies. 

Mills denies that he has come up with a "conspiracy theory," 
but I think that this is exactly what he has done. It is a more 
sophisticated conspiracy theory than most and has more elements 
of plausibility than most. Nevertheless, it begins as a search for 
the responsible, accountable parties in society (this only after 
Mills argues to his own satisfaction that in our time, if not in 
all others, "the course of events . . . depends on a series of 
human decisions"), and its mood is that of a highly intellectual 
lynching bee. It is interesting to note that practically all of 
the "events" and "decisions" Mills brings up in this book are 
ones of which he disapproves. Conspiracy theories are invariably 
the work of people concerned almost to the point of obsession 
with the "bad" developments in human history those who seem 
to have, in Richard Hofstadter's words, "a commitment to hos 
tility." So far as I know, no general theory of accountability has 
ever been developed to explain the achievements of a civiliza 
tion.* And none is the work of people who have much sense of 

* Marxism may be regarded as an exception, but Marxism is not in any 
meaningful sense a conspiracy theory. Marx's "classes" do not "decide" or 
plot or plan or do anything, but behave as the pressures of history compel 
them to behave. It has been interesting to note that when Mills, some years 
after writing The Power Elite, became enthusiastic about Fidel Castro's Cuba, 
he tended to lapse into traditional Marxism. He saw no "interlocking 
directorates" or "overlapping cliques" bring Castro to power or maintain 
him there. He described the Castro revolution not as a plot but as a move- 


being themselves implicated in history as Mills would be, for 
example, if my analysis of Dienbienphu is reasonably sound. 
There is in their work no acknowledgment of the possibility 
that, as Dr. Bruno Bettelheim has put it, "maybe it [is] not 
society that created all these difficulties in man but rather the 
hidden, inner, contradictory nature of man that created these 
difficulties for society." I do not, of course, suggest that this is 
a viable doctrine for a sociologist or historian seeking to under 
stand the "power situation" in the United States. I do, however, 
think that it is exceedingly difficult to write very helpfully 
about any aspect of the human comedy or the human tragedy if 
one regards oneself not as part of it but merely as a member 
of a small captive audience. 

Mills repeatedly speaks of the "irresponsibility" of the people 
who decide. He does not mean that they are as individuals 
capricious or flip or reckless when they are dealing with matters 
of life or death. He means, if I understand him, that they exer 
cise power with little of value in the way of tradition or philoso 
phy to guide them. "It is not/' he says, "the barbarous irra 
tionality of dour political primitives that is the American danger; 
it is the respected judgments of Secretaries of State, the earnest 
platitudes of Presidents, the fearful self-righteousness of sincere 
young American politicians from Sunny California. These men 
have replaced mind with platitude, and the dogmas by which 
they are legitimated are so widely accepted that no counter 
balance of mind prevails against them. They have replaced the 
responsible interpretation of events with the disguise of events 
by a maze of public relations." He has John Foster Dulles, Dwight 
Eisenhower, and Richard M. Nixon clearly in mind, but he is 
as contemptuous of their immediate predecessors and would be 
as contemptuous of any imaginable successors. 

Is he right in maintaining that they exercise their power within 
"the American system of organized irresponsibility"? I think he 
is very much in error. I believe that an examination of the 
crucial decisions reveals a high degree of responsibility in the 

ment of restless, surging humanity struggling to fulfill its needs and aspira 
tions. In fairness, though, he claimed no theoretical jurisdiction beyond the 
United States. 

265 The Interlocking Overlappers 

"interpretation of events/' I do not exclude the decision to drop 
the first atomic bombs. That act may be one for which the 
future, if it gets the chance, may damn Harry Truman and all 
the soldiers and scientists around him and all of us who were 
part of a society which was not thoroughly outraged. Still, I 
do not think the act was irresponsible. The President knew, in 
the first place, that he was making a decision of considerable 
moral significance. He could not have measured its significance 
as clearly as some of us now do, for the decision was taken in the 
last days of the preatomic age. He made the decision as a mili 
tary commander, responsible for the lives of millions of young 
Americans summoned to risk death in the greatest war in history. 
As commander in chief, it was his duty to seek estimates of the 
probable saving of American lives and the probable loss of 
Japanese lives. As a human being, it was his duty to weigh values 
of a different sort the effect of this act of war on the nature 
of the peace it might bring, the effect of a victory achieved this 
way on his country's standing in the world after victory, even the 
problem of whether it was right at all to see the problem in 
these terms. 

Nothing that I have read about Harry Truman's decision sug 
gests that he was heedless of these considerations. He approached 
his awful dilemma soberly, or as soberly as it was possible for a 
man like Harry Truman to be at a time when the world was 
awash with blood. He consulted others. In the nature of this 
peculiar case, he could not avail himself of all the wisdom in the 
country or the world. But he did, with proper humility, consult 
men whose judgment he regarded as in many respects superior 
to his own. Of their number, only a very few, perhaps five per 
cent, counseled him not to use the bomb at all. A few suggested 
he give the Japanese a decent warning; others, however, thought 
that this might result in an even greater loss of life than an un 
announced use of the weapon. In any case, he sought advice of 
this sort, and then he acted. I cannot see how he, or those 
around him, can be accused of "irresponsibility" or of having 
constructed about themselves a "paranoid reality." 

The Truman administration took us to war in Korea. The 
Eisenhower administration took us to "the brink of war" in the 


Formosa Straits and in Indochina and then withdrew. It hap 
pens to be my personal view that both administrations exercised 
sound and mature judgment in these three affairs. I think, in 
short, that the government was "right/* and I set this down be 
cause I realize that a man who regards a judgment as a sound 
one could hardly be expected to regard it as irresponsible. But 
I think that I also understand the case against all these decisions, 
and I think the issue can be limited to responsibility alone. 
Those who decided to intervene in Korea believed that inter 
vention, if it were successful, would prevent similar aggressions 
and that nonintervention would encourage them. A good deal 
of the confusion about the Korean war exists because the factor 
of time is not given enough weight. It was true that American 
policy, before June 22, 1950, held the Republic of Korea to be 
outside our system of national security; that policy was abruptly 
reversed. But when the North Koreans attacked across the 
thirty-eighth parallel, it was the first aggression by a Communist 
army in the history of the cold war. Military pressure had been 
used before, as it was to be used again. Communist armies had 
fought non-Communist armies in wars of an essentially civil 
nature. Communist armies brought about the downfall of pre 
sumably sovereign governments by their mere presence as occupy 
ing forces. But this was the first assault against an international 
boundary. Thus, it was less Korea as a tract or even the Seoul 
government as the seat of a sovereign power to which policies 
and strategies did or did not apply it was the Republic of 
Korea as the place where Communist power was seeking to deter 
mine whether it could succeed by armed conquest. 

There were other considerations, to be sure. The "prestige" 
of the United Nations appeared to be involved. Though Korea 
was outside our "defense perimeter/* the country was one for 
which we had shown a great deal of concern. I can well under 
stand believing that none of those things justified our presence 
in Korea and that, in fact, it was not justified at all. Walter 
Lippmann is only one of many estimable people who have taken 
this view. But again, I cannot see the decision to intervene as 
anything but one taken with a high degree of responsibility. 

26j The Interlocking Overlappers 

Indeed, it seems to me that those members of the power elite 
who made the decision took a lofty and noble view of their 
responsibilities in this world. And a remarkably disinterested 
view as well. It is probable that on the night of June 22, 1950, 
they were not fully aware of the fact that they were leading the 
country into the most hated war in its history and that this might 
cost them and their party the control of the country. But all 
politicians and most statesmen know that all wars of even short 
duration are hated and that they were not marching down any 
highway to political success. If anything, their action was a bit 
too disinterested in this regard, for a large part of the case against 
the Korean war seen from this perspective in time was that it 
was so divisive and so productive of hatreds and bitterness that 
it might very well have been better never to have become in 
volved in it. To a degree, these were the considerations that led 
to the Eisenhower administration's avoidance of commitments 
in Quemoy and Matsu and in Indochina. Other things were dif 
ferent as well: the Eisenhower administration, for all of Dulles's 
rhetoric, was more reluctant to assume initiatives of any sort 
than the Truman administration, and neither Formosa nor the 
French regime in Indochina could be regarded as having so 
clear a title to the disputed territories as the Seoul government, 
with its U.N. support, had in South Korea. But I am talking not 
about the problems but about the quality of responsibility in 
their eventual resolution. I am not an admirer of the general 
judgment of those in the Eisenhower administration who were 
charged with official responsibility in these matters, but I fail 
to see how they can be faulted for "irresponsible" decisions. 

And, as a matter of fact, it seems to me that it is probably a 
general rule in our society and perhaps in most societies that 
what are thought of as the "big derisions" those that are al 
most immediately crucial, those that involve the nation as a 
whole and are known to the world while they are being made 
or immediately afterward are more often than not "responsible" 
and, within the limitations of the time and the men who seem 
to dominate the time, statesmanlike. There are exceptions, of 
course (Munich would come to mind and Eisenhower's deter- 


urination of the adequacy of our scientific efforts), but if I were 
a C. Wright Mills and were seeking to show the unhappy influ 
ence of the interlocking directorate of corporate, political, and 
military leaders, I think I would look not to large decisions but 
to small ones and to the whole tone and temper of our society 
at the present time. But that is another story, and not the one 
his work compels us to deal with. 

Life and Death and Sentience 


ARTHUR KOESTLER'S Reflections on Hanging and Glanville Wil 
liams' The Sanctity of Life are notable works of the humane 
intelligence. Koestier's book is a tract against capital punish 
ment. It has attained historic importance in England, where it 
was serialized in the London Observer. It was the leading 
abolitionist text in the public and Parliamentary debates that 
led to a two-year moratorium on hanging in England and came 
very close to ending it forever. Koestler pleads his case, which 
would be as pertinent in the forty-two of our states that allow 
capital penalties as it is in England, with force and fervor; the 
book has none of the mere cleverness one often finds in his 
novels and none of the slipperiness one finds in so much of his 
political writing. It is not, though, as interesting or as brilliant a 
piece of work as Williams*. In a sense, Williams' book runs 
counter to Koestler's. Koestler is opposed to killing by due 
process of law. Williams says nothing about capital punishment; 
his book is, among other things, a plea for modifications of 
Anglo-Saxon law that would lead to a more liberal view of a 
number of practices that are regarded by many as partaking of 
homicide for example, euthanasia, suicide, contraception, abor 
tion, and sterilization. The laws that deal with life-and-death 
matters only codify certain moral and religious attitudes not 
necessarily the prevailing ones toward these grave issues, and 
it is to these attitudes that Williams addresses himself. He brings 
to the task a great store of knowledge, a fastidious logic, and 
style of unfaltering clarity. 

In his polemic, Koestler uses every argument but one against 



capital punishment; he never invokes the Sixth Commandment 
or holds that the destruction of a human spirit is too great a 
responsibility for any temporal authority. He never says that 
killing is wrong in itself. What he does say is that hanging is 
barbarous and sickening; that electrocution and the gas chamber 
are no less brutal and repellent; that the death penalty is not 
a deterrent to crime; that guiltless men are sometimes put to 
death by law, and that execution degrades any society that toler 
ates it and every judge who orders it. In the case of murder, he 
says, it is a punishment that conspicuously fails to fit the crime; 
murder is almost always the work of the deranged and is almost 
never a planned pursuit such as, say, larceny of the criminally 
bent. (The United States may be an exception. We have had 
killers who were professional in every sense of the word.) It is in 
some ways remarkable that his book should have had so great 
an impact when it makes no use of the argument one would 
expect to weigh most heavily on people reared in the Judaeo- 
Christian tradition. Yet only once is it suggested that capital 
punishment is inherently wrong, a malum in se, regardless of 
the technique, regardless of the victim's guilt, regardless of social 
or penological considerations, and that suggestion occurs not in 
Koestler but in the introduction for American readers, by Pro 
fessor Edmond Cahn, of the New York University Law School. 
Professor Cahn cites a statement by the late Judge Jerome Frank 
that the frequency of judicial error relieves the opponents of 
capital punishment of the need to fall back on the argument 
that "no man may morally play God/' This argument might be 
adduced, Judge Frank said, if we could be sure that every man 
under sentence of death had committed the crime for which he 
was paying. "But such a thesis need not be considered," he re 
marked, with evident relief at having sidestepped an awkward 
dispute, "for it assumes the impossible. Experience teaches the 
fallibility of court decisions. . . . How dare any society take 
the chance of ordering the judicial homicide of an innocent 

The truth is that the modern mind would have a hard time 
arguing anything on the premise that human life is sacred. This 

27* Life and Death and Sentience 

is not because it disbelieves in sacredness or because it holds, 
with Mr. Justice Holmes, that the sanctity of life "is a purely 
municipal ideal of no validity outside the jurisdiction/' which 
is a way of saying that the sanctity of life is simply a legal rather 
than an ethical concept. And it is not because life is held in low 
esteem; the secular mind, which may see death as an everlasting 
nothingness, can build a mystique of earthly existence in which 
far more value is placed on the privilege of inhaling and exhaling 
than most theologies have ever attached to it. But it would be 
almost fatuous, in the middle of the twentieth century, for even 
the most devout theologian to say that man cannot or should not 
play God provided he means that man should not interfere 
with those processes that in earlier centuries were held to be 
reserved to Providence. Man must play God, for he has acquired 
certain Godlike powers, though not, because it is beyond the 
purview of the criminal law, with the most wonder-working of 
them all, atomic energy. Science has put into our hands and 
politics has required us to grasp firmly instruments that force 
a human judgment on whether or not the entire race is to be 
executed; even in benign employment, these instruments can 
affect the very image of man many millennia hence, and, for 
that matter, the duration of all life. In a less awesome but awe 
some enough way, modern medicine has been usurping pre 
rogatives once held to be God's alone. It has learned to cheat 
death not merely by the prolongation of life but by calling 
men back to life after several hours on the other shore. The 
judge who orders an execution is no more guilty of playing God 
than the doctor who, having decided that a human being has 
been summoned to eternity too soon, restores him to the world 
of time and suffering and sin. Hanging may be more offensive, 
but it is not more presumptuous. We have control over creation, 
too, and are more and more in a position to determine not only 
who shall die and when but who shall be born and when. If it is 
Godlike to cut a life or a death short, it is hardly less Godlike 
to arrange for a woman innocent of adultery and even wholly 
chaste to nourish in her womb and bear a child of whom she is 
not the "natural" mother and of whom her husband, if she has 


one, is not in any sense the father. The "natural" father, in fact, 
could very well be a man who has died years before his trans 
planted and refrigerated sperm fertilized the ovum. 

In making his argument, Williams accepts Bertrand Russell's 
assertion that moral progress consists of a widening of the bound 
aries of human sympathy. That definition leaves much unde 
fined. Is sympathy to be forever widened, until there is no lack 
of it anywhere? Does sympathy mean toleration? "Moral prog 
ress" has a metallic ring, and it is doubtful that men as per 
ceptive as Koestler and Williams could find much satisfaction in 
being described as "morally progressive." But Russell's concept 
does illustrate the basic distinction between Koestler and 
Williams. By a literal application of the concept, Koestler 
qualifies easily for a place in the moral vanguard; he is begging 
mercy, the active stage of sympathy, for murderers. Williams' 
plea would be more difficult to justify, for the world is full o 
people of unassailable morality who would say that he is really 
asking us to withhold sympathy from many human beings whom 
our laws now protect. He favors the compulsory sterilization of 
the feeble-minded, the epileptic, and persons with certain heredi 
tary physical defects. He would permit the destruction of griev 
ously malformed infants. He thinks it should be "permissible 
both morally and legally so to define a human being as to exclude 
the grosser sports of nature." While he may share Koestler's view 
that one murder does not justify another, he would have the 
criminal law make infanticide a lesser form of homicide an 
attitude that plays hob with Russell's dictum, since it could be 
described as a denial of sympathy to the victim. 

Koestler argues against hanging with a revolutionist's ardor 
and the arid logic of a mere reformer. Minus its rhetoric, which 
is sometimes quite splendid, his tract is a series of pragmatic 
propositions of the sort he might work up to oppose anything 
he chanced to regard as unsound public policy. It cannot, how 
ever, be this purely municipal spirit that accounts for the aboli 
tionist passion that has become for him, at least in part, a moral 
substitute for the Bolshevism that fired his imagination in his 
youth. (In 1936, he acquired a certain concern with capital 
punishment when, as a young Communist, he spent three months 

275 */* and Death and Sentience 

under sentence of death In one of General Franco's jails.) For 
while the ending of capital punishment may commend itself to 
many of us, it is not the kind of crusade that justifies and sup 
ports the fervor that moves Koestler. As Koestler himself re 
marks, the only direct beneficiaries in England are the "thirteen 
wretches a year" normally sentenced to death. This is but one 
inhabitant in three million, which is not very much, particularly 
if one believes that murderers, on the whole, are a poor lot. 
What, after all, is so important about ending capital punish 
ment? Stricter traffic controls or increased appropriations for 
cancer research would save many, many more lives, and it seems 
nonsensical to imply, as Koestler does, that the death penalty 
compromises before the rest of the world the moral positions 
of the countries that impose it. (Oddly, the three most humane 
of modern Western societies Britain, France, and the United 
States are almost the only ones of those societies who still keep 
the category of capital crime on their books.) Actually, the 
Sixth Commandment is at the bottom of Koestler' s case. The 
unstated assumption of this worldling's argument is that there is 
something profane, something supremely wicked about the tak 
ing of any human life. Though he advances only the standard 
municipal claims in support of abolition, one feels that his 
position would be the same in the face of incontrovertible evi 
dence that hanging is an effective deterrent to murder. Koestler 
may be a worldling, but his passion has a transcendental base. 
This situation, as Glanville Williams points out, is not at all un 
common. "Even the modern infidel," he says, "tends to give his 
full support to the belief that it is our duty to regard all human 
life as sacred, however disabled or worthless or repellent the indi 
vidual may be." 

Williams, however, does not give his full support to the op 
posite belief. He, too, may oppose hanging, but he could not 
do it with Koestler's zeal, for he thinks it is urgent common 
sense to measure the value of life both qualitatively and quan 
titatively. Life is feeling and awareness, not mere animation, 
and the more highly developed the feeling and awareness, the 
more deserving a particular life is of respect and protection. 
Life is also the community of the presently living, to whom the 


problem of numbers the size of families, for example, or the 
relation of population to resources can be of crucial importance. 
In a general way, Western man acts on these views even when 
his religions and his criminal laws run contrary to them. We 
reserve our severest penalties, such as hanging, for those who 
destroy or tamper with a life that is highly sentient and do not 
apply them in cases of low degree of sentience. Infanticide has 
seldom been looked upon as murder; in some societies it has 
been encouraged, in others it has been tolerated. The destruction 
of a life in a declining state of sentience is also given a large 
degree of tolerance. In no Western jurisprudence is it conceivable 
that a doctor who relieves a dying patient's pain by a dose of 
anodyne that ends pain forever will suffer the full vengeance 
of the law. 

Williams' book is in part an analysis of religious and legal 
estimates of the value of human life and in part a plea for the 
frank acceptance of municipal standards. The community of 
the living is obliged to be concerned with community problems. 
If life is sentience, then sentience must be respected. Williams 
would establish a man's right to put an end to what he chooses 
to regard as his own agony by suicide the unsuccessful attempt 
at which is now, preposterously, a crime in most Anglo-Saxon 
jurisdictions or by requesting euthanasia. Williams would also 
preserve the right of the community of the living to limit its 
numbers and to regulate, as far as possible, its quality by birth 
control, by sterilization, and by artificial insemination. Accord 
ing to statisticians in whom he has confidence, a laissez-faire 
eugenic, or perhaps even dysgenic, policy is almost bound to 
lead (through the tendency of the less sentient to be more pro 
lific) to a decline in average intelligence as high as one per cent 
a generation and this in a society that is already putting an 
enormous strain on its reserves of intelligence. In a way, the 
prospect of a society that took matters of life and death into its 
own hands as coldly as Williams would have it do is a terrifying 
one; reading him, one often has the feeling that it would be 
better and safer if we clung blindly to the simple precepts em 
bodied in our law than if we settled coldly upon the idea that 
we ourselves are the makers of values. What Williams demon- 

275 Life and Death and Sentience 

strates, though, and what the worldling Koestler illustrates, is 
that the best of our secular minds have treasured life fully as 
much as the best of our transcendental minds. Who wrote a 
tract that helped bring an end to hanging in England? Arthur 
Koestler. A little over a century ago, English children were being 
hanged for petty thefts, and today there is mercy even for the 
merciless. And the burden of Glanville Williams' book is that 
the boundaries of our sympathies for all those who share our 
state of being should be immensely widened. 

* The Conscience of Arthur Miller 


"i WILL PROTECT my sense of myself/' Arthur Miller told the 
House Committee on Un-American Activities when he declined 
to name some people, mainly writers, he had met at various 
gatherings presumed by the Committee and by Miller to have 
been arranged by Communists. He did not invoke the Fifth 
Amendment. Had he done so, he would probably have escaped 
any difficulties with the law though sharp questioning on the 
possibility of self-incrimination might have denied him this 
refuge. (Merely to have encountered Communists in the thirties 
and forties was never held to be incriminating, even in Mc 
Carthy's fifties. And Miller had already talked a great deal about 
his own political past.) Instead, he invoked, in defense of what 
he claimed was his right to be unresponsive, the First Amend 
ment, which protects freedom of speech and in recent years has 
also been held to protect the necessary corollary of free speech, 
free non-speech. "I could not use the name of another person and 
bring trouble on him," Miller said. The refusal led to a con 
viction for contempt of Congress. The presiding judge found 
Miller's motives "commendable" but felt constrained to hold his 
action legally indefensible. 

"I will protect my sense of myself" legalities aside, this was 
Miller's basic statement of his own case, as he evidently viewed 
the matter. As a rule, a writer's sense of himself is to be pro 
jected as well as protected. It becomes, through publication (or, 
in his case, production), a rather public affair. In fact, I think, 
it was only in a rather narrow meaning of the term that he was 
protecting any "sense of himself." He was defending, under the 

277 The Conscience of Arthur Miller 

threat of a year In jail and a fine of a thousand dollars, his view 
that It is unmanly and irresponsible and undemocratic and 
even unpatriotic to be an "informer." Actually, what he saw 
as the testing of Ms integrity the challenge to his "sense of 
himself* was a question Involving not himself but others. ("I 
could not use the name of another person . . .") Of himself, 
of Arthur Miller, noted playwright, he talked freely, not to say 
garrulously. He chatted, almost gaily, about his views before 
the war; his views during the war; his views after the war; about 
the case of Ezra Pound; about Ella Kazan, his collaborator both 
in left-wing politics and in the theater, who, unlike Miller, had 
provided the Committee with the "names" by which It sets such 
great store. He confided his views of Congressional investigations, 
of the Smith Act, and of just about anything in which the 
Congressmen showed any interest. When he was asked why he 
wrote "so morbidly, so sadly/' the author of Death of a Salesman 
responded courteously and patiently rather as if It were the 
question period following a paid lecture before a ladles* club. 
His self-esteem was offended only when he was asked to identify 

Thus, one might say, it was really a social or political ethic 
that he was protecting, while of his sense of himself he gave 
freely. In legal terms, this might be a quibble, for there Is no 
reason why a man should not have a right to his own definition 
of self-respect. In a literary sense, It is not a quibble, for Miller 
is a writer of a particular sort, and It was In character for him 
to see things this way. He is, basically, a political, or "socially 
conscious" writer. He is a fortunate survivor of the thirties, and 
his values derive mostly from that decade. He is not much 
of a hand at exploring or exploiting his own consciousness. He 
is not inward. He is more Ibsen than Strindberg. He writes at 
times with great power, but not with a style of his own, and 
those who see his plays can leave them with little or no sense of 
the author as a man. He Is not, in fact, much concerned with 
individuality of any sort. This is not an adverse judgment; it is 
a distinction, or an attempt at one. What interests Miller and 
what he can often convey with force is the crushing impact of 
society upon its members. His human beings are always on the 


anvil, awaiting the hammer, and the act that landed him in his 
present trouble was the attempt to shield two or three of them 
from the hammer's blow. (It was, of course, a symbolic act, a 
gesture, for Miller knew very well that the Committee knew 
all about the men he was asked to identify. It already had their 
names and didn't need them from him. He could not really 
shield; he could only assert the shielding principle.) What he 
was protecting was, in any case, a self-esteem that rested upon 
a social rule or principle or ethic. 

One could almost say that Miller's sense of himself is the 
fashionable principle that holds "informing" to be the ultimate 
in human wickedness. It is certainly a recurrent theme in his 
writing. In The Crucible, his play about the Salem witchcraft 
trials, his own case is so strikingly paralleled as to lend color 
though doubtless not truth to the view that his performance 
in Washington was a case of life paying art the sincere flattery 
of imitation. To save his life, John Proctor, the hero, makes a 
compromise with the truth. He confesses, falsely, to having 
trafficked with Satan. "Did you see the Devil?" the prosecutor 
asks him. "I did/ 1 Proctor says. He recognizes the character of his 
act, but this affects him little. "Good, then it is evil, and I 
do it," he says to his wife, who is shocked. He has reasoned that 
a few more years on earth are worth this betrayal of his sense 
of himself. (It is not to be concluded that Proctor's concession to 
the mad conformity of the time parallels Miller's testimony, so 
far as it went, for Proctor had never in fact seen the Devil, 
whereas Miller had in fact seen Communists, plenty of them. 
Moreover, Miller did not regard the Communists he had seen 
as devils.) The prosecutor will not let Proctor off with mere 
self-incrimination. He wants names; the names of those Proctor 
has seen with the Devil. Proctor refuses; he does not balk at a 
self-serving lie, but a self-serving lie that involves others will not 
cross his lips. He will speak of the Devil but not of the Devil's 
and his friends. "I speak my own sins," he says, either hyperboli- 
cally or hypocritically, since the sins in question are a fiction. 
"I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it." He is hanged, 
a martyr. 

^79 The Conscience of Arthur Miller 

In his latest play, A View from the Bridge, Miller returns to 
the theme, this time with immense wrath. He holds that con 
science indeed humanity itself is put to the final test when 
a man is asked to "inform." Eddie, a longshoreman in the grip 
of a terrible passion for his teen-age niece, receives generous 
amounts of love and sympathy from those around him up to the 
moment he is beguiled into tipping off the Immigration officers 
to the illegal presence in his home of a pair of aliens. His lust 
for the child has had dreadful consequences for the girl herself, 
for the youth she wishes to marry, and for Eddie's wife. It has 
destroyed Eddie's sense of himself and made a brute of him. 
Yet up to the moment he "informs'* he gets the therapy of af 
fection and understanding from those he has hurt the most. 
But once he turns in the aliens, he is lost; he crosses the last 
threshold of iniquity upon becoming an informer. "In the 
garbage can he belongs," his wife says. "Nobody is gonna talk 
to him again if he lives to a hundred." 

A View from the Bridge is not a very lucid play, and it may 
be that in it Miller, for all of his wrath, takes a somewhat less 
simple view of the problem of the informer than he does in 
The Crucible. There is a closing scene in which he appears to 
be saying that even this terrible transgression may be under 
stood and dealt with in terms other than those employed by 
Murder, Incorporated. I think, though, that the basic principle 
for which Miller speaks is far commoner in Eddie's and our 
world than it could have been in John Proctor's. The morality 
that supports it is post-Darwinian. It is more available to those 
not bound by the Christian view of the soul's infinite precious- 
ness or of the body as a temple than it could have been to pre- 
Darwinian society. Today, in most Western countries, ethics 
derive mainly from society and almost all values are social. 
What we do to and with ourselves is thought to be our own 
affair and thus not, in most circumstances, a matter that involves 
morality at all People will be found to say that suicide, for a 
man or woman with few obligations to others, should not be 
judged harshly, while the old sanctions on murder remain. 
Masturbation, once known as "self-abuse," receives a tolerance 


that fornication does not quite receive. A man's person and his 
"sense of himself*' are disposable assets, provided he chooses to 
see things that way; sin is only possible when we involve others. 
Thus, Arthur Miller's John Proctor was a modern man when, 
after lying about his relations with the Devil, he said, "God in 
heaven, what is John Proctor, what is John Proctor? I think it is 
honest, I think so. I am no saint." It is doubtful if anyone in the 
seventeenth century could have spoken that way. The real John 
Proctor surely thought he had an immortal soul, and if he had 
used the word "honest" at all, it would not have been in the 
sophisticated, relativistic way in which Miller had him use it. 
He might have weakened sufficiently to lie about himself and 
the Devil, but he would surely not have said it was "honest" to 
do so or reasoned that it didn't really matter because he was 
only a speck of dust. He was speaking for the social ethic which 
is Arthur Miller's and he resisted just where Miller did, at 
"informing," at supplying "names." 

It is, I think, useful to look rather closely at Miller's social 
ethic and at what he has been saying about the problems of 
conscience, for circumstances have conspired to make him a 
leading symbol of the militant, risk-taking conscience in this 
period. I do not wish to quarrel with the whole of his morality, 
for much of it I share as do, I suppose, most people who have 
not found it possible to accept any of the revealed religions. 
Moreover, I believe, as Judge Charles F. McLaughlin did, that 
the action Miller took before the Committee was a courageous 
one. Nevertheless, I think that behind the action and behind 
Miller's defense of it there is a certain amount of moral and 
political confusion. If I am right, then we ought to set about 
examining it, lest conscience and political morality come to be 
seen entirely in terms of "naming names" a simplification which 
the House Un-American Activities Committee seems eager to 
foist upon us and which Miller, too, evidently accepts. 

A healthy conscience, Miller seems to be saying, can stand 
anything but "informing." On the one hand, this seems a 
meager view of conscience. On the other, it makes little political 
sense and not a great deal of moral sense. Not all "informing" 
is bad, and not all of it is despised by the people who frequently 

2 8i The Conscience of Arthur Miller 

speak of it as despicable.* The question of guilt is relative. 
My wife and I, for example, instruct our children not to tattle 
on one another. But if either of us saw a hit-and-run driver 
knock over a child or even a dog, we would, if we could, take 
down the man's license number and turn him in to the police. 
Even in the case of children, we have found it necessary to 
modify the rule so that we may be quickly advised if anyone is 
in serious danger of hurting himself or another. (The social 
principle again.) Proctor, I think, was not stating a fact when he 
said, "I cannot judge another" nor was Miller when he said 
substantially the same thing. For the decision not to inform 
demands the judging of others. "They think to go like saints/' 
Proctor said in favorable judgment upon those he claimed he 
could not judge, and Miller must have had something of the 
sort in mind about the writers he refused to discuss. He reasoned, 
I have no doubt, that their impulses were noble and that they 
had sought to do good in the world. We refuse to inform, I 
believe, either when we decide that those whose names we are 
asked to reveal are guilty of no wrong or when we perceive that 
what they have done is no worse than what we ourselves have 
often done. Wherever their offenses are clearly worse as in the 
case of a hit-and-run driver or a spy or a thief we drop the ban. 
If the position taken by Miller were in all cases right, then it 
would seem wise to supplement the Fifth Amendment with one 
holding that no man could be required to incriminate another. 
If this were done, the whole machinery of law enforcement 
would collapse; it would be simply impossible to determine 
the facts about a crime. Of course, Congressional committees 
are not courts, and it might be held that such a rule would be 

* In the summer of 1961, some juvenile gangs in New York undertook a 
campaign of guerrilla warfare against the police. Concrete blocks were 
dropped from roofs and windows on prowl cars; packs of delinquents assaulted 
foot patrolmen on the streets. The New York Post, a liberal newspaper which 
had supported Arthur Miller in 1957 and which in general had urged that 
these difficult youths be treated with kindness and consideration, felt that 
things had gone much too far. It deplored the resistance to "informing" that 
made it impossible to identify and punish the guilty. "When witnesses," it 
said in an angry editorial, "who can identify the assailants refuse to cooperate 
in tracking them down, a serious sickness is in the air." Obviously, it all 


useful in their proceedings. It would be useful only if we wished 
to destroy the investigative power. For we live, after all, in a 
community, in the midst of other people, and all of our prob 
lems certainly all of those with which Congress has a legitimate 
concern involve others. It is rarely possible to conduct a serious 
inquiry of any sort without talking about other people and 
without running the risk of saying something that would hurt 
them. We can honor the conscience that says, "I speak my own 
sins. I cannot judge another." But those of us who accept any 
principle of social organization and certainly those of us who 
believe that our present social order, whatever changes it may 
stand in need of, is worth preserving cannot make a universal 
principle of refusing to inform. If any agency of the community 
is authorized to undertake a serious investigation of any of our 
common problems, then the identities of others names are 
of great importance. What would be the point of investigating, 
say, industrial espionage if the labor spies subpoenaed refused 
to identify their employer? What would be the point of investi 
gating Teapot Dome or Dixon-Yates if it were impossible to 
learn the identity of the businessmen and government officials 

The joker, the source of much present confusion, lies in the 
matter of seriousness. Miller and his attorneys have argued that 
the names of the writers Miller had known were not relevant 
to the legislation on passports the Committee was supposed to 
be studying. This would certainly seem to be the case, and one 
may regret that Judge McLaughlin did not accept this argu 
ment and acquit Miller on the strength of it. Nevertheless, the 
argument really fudges the central issue, which is that the 
Committee wasn't really investigating passport abuses at all 
when it called Miller before it. It was only pretending to do so. 
The rambling talk of its members with Miller was basically 
frivolous, and the Un-American Activities Committee has almost 
always lacked seriousness. In this case, as Mary McCarthy has 
pointed out, the most that it wanted from Miller was to have 
him agree to its procedure of testing the good faith of witnesses 
by their willingness to produce names, names, names. It was on 
this ground that Miller was morally justified in his refusal. 

283 The Conscience of Arthur Miller 

Still, Miller's principle, the social ethic he was defending, 
cannot be made a universal rule or a political right. For it is one 
thing to say, as I am saying now, that the House Un-American 
Activities Committee is frivolous and mischievous and politically 
contemptible and another to assert before the law that such a 
judgment gives a witness the right to stand mute before the 
Committee without being held in contempt. As matters stand 
today, Miller was plainly in contempt. At one point in The 
Crucible, John Proctor is called upon to justify his failure to 
attend the church of the Rev. Mr. Parris and to have his children 
baptized by that divine. He replies that he disapproves of the 
clergyman. "I see no light of God in that man," he says. "That 
is not for you to decide/' he is told. "The man is ordained, 
therefore the light of God is in him/' And this, of course, is 
the way the world is. In a free society, any one of us may arrive 
at and freely express a judgment about the competence of duly 
constituted authority. But in an orderly society, no one of us 
can expect the protection of the law whenever we decide that a 
particular authority is unworthy of co-operation. We may stand 
by the decision, and we may seek the law's protection, but we 
cannot expect it as a matter of right. There are many courses of 
action that may have a sanction in morality and none whatever 
in law. Contempt of Congress is a punishable offense. It is also 
an attitude that reason and honor may demand of a man. But 
the fact that Congress or certain Congressmen may seem con 
temptible does not in itself deprive the institution of its power 
or its Constitutional function in the American scheme of things. 

Yet the law is intended to be, among other things, a codification 
of morality and of common sense, and we cannot be pleased with 
the thought that a man should be penalized for an act of con 
scienceeven when his conscience may seem not as fully in 
formed by reason as it ought to be. In a much more serious 
matter, war, we excuse from participation those who say their 
consciences will permit them no part in it. One of the reasons 
the order of American society seems worth preserving is that it 
allows, on the whole, a free play to the individual's moral judg 
ments. In recent years, Congressional committees have posed the 
largest single threat to this freedom. The issues have often been 


confused by the bad faith of witnesses on the one hand and 
committee members on the other. Still and all, the problem is a 
real one, as the Miller case shows. If there is not sufficient latitude 
for conscience in the law, then there ought to be. It would be 
irresponsible, I think, simply to permit anyone who chooses to 
withhold whatever information he decides he does not care to 
impart. The Fifth Amendment seems to go as far as is generally 
justified in this direction. Changes in committee procedures have 
often been urged, but it is doubtful if much clarification of a 
problem such as this can be written into rules and bylaws. The 
problem is essentially one of discretion and measurement; it is, 
in other words, the most difficult sort of problem and one of the 
kind that has, customarily, been dealt with by the establishment 
of broad and morally informed judicial doctrines. 

On August 7, 1958, the Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington 
unanimously ordered Miller's acquittal. It proclaimed no doctrine 
on the rights or privileges of conscience. It held that the House 
Committee had not given the witness sufficient warning of the 
consequences of failure to respond. Miller was the better off by 
$500 (this and a suspended sentence of one year were the 
penalties that had been imposed by the Federal Court) and by 
a record that shows no conviction for contempt of Congress. 

Communists and Intellectuals 


INTELLECTUALS seem to delight in blaming their own class or 
caste or callings for the malfimctionings of society and partic 
ularly for its political aberrations and tyrannies. Sometimes 
their guilt is held to be a product of their apathy and indifference 
(from Athens to the Weimar Republic), sometimes a product of 
their excessive or mistaken interventions (from Jacobin France* 
to the Paris of Julien Bendaf). McCarthyism and the devel 
opments that have encouraged its lamentable rise and spread 
have brought on a new wave of intellectual self-reproach in this 
country. A number of intellectuals are angry at other intellec 
tuals. One of the angriest is the poet and historian Peter Viereck. 
A couple of years ago, in a widely discussed article entitled 
"Bloody-Minded Professors"! and more recently in his book 
The Shame and Glory of the Intellectuals > he has given his 
brethren in the arts, the academies, and the learned professions 
such a beating about the ears as they have not received in a 
generation. Viereck would have us believe that a direct cause of 
the death of freedom in many parts of the postwar world has 
been the affinity a certain number of Western intellectuals had 
for Communism in the early thirties and forties. "The misinter- 

* Je suis tombe a terre 
La Nez dans le ruisseau 
C'est la faute a Voltaire, 
G'est la faute a Rousseau. 

(Anon. Circa 1792). 
f La Trahison des Clercs, 1927. 

^Confluence, September 1951. The title is by courtesy of Winston 
Churchill, who attributed the rise of Communism to "a gang of ruthless 
and bloody-minded professors." 


pretation of Soviet world-conquest," he says, "by certain of the 
best educated non-oxen of the West did not merely affect the 
realm of abstract theory. It affected the course of actual history." 
Maybe. Since I tend to believe, with Tolstoy as my leading 
fellow traveler, that in all probability (a word I do not use 
lightly) everything affects everything in history, I cannot take 
the view that the "educated non-oxen" played no role at all. 
But I cannot go along with Viereck, who maintains that Ameri 
can resistance to Soviet aggression would have stiffened far 
earlier and thus have been far more effective if it had not been 
for the sapping of morale by intellectuals whose own morale had 
been sapped by Stalinism and other debilitating influences, many 
of these latter originating in Bohemia. 

Viereck is one of the more passionate and hard-breathing of 
the modern school of "C'est la faute a Voltaire/' but he states the 
case pretty much as most of them are stating it nowadays, and he 
does recognize Senator McCarthy for the charlatan he is. I 
propose to deal critically with some of his contentions. It is 
probably to my advantage to say that I propose to offer no 
defense of the American intellectuals who embraced Communism 
in the thirties or forties or to argue that what they did had no 
bearing on the course of events. The American intellectuals who 
succumbed to Stalinism (if 1 qualify as an intellectual, then I was 
one of their number for a brief but inexcusably long period in 
the late thirties*) damaged this country and the idea of a free 
and open society. They did this, I believe, largely by damaging 
themselves and by pouring bilge into our culture. But I find it 
hard indeed, almost impossible to believe that they delayed 
the formulation of the Truman Doctrine or the North Atlantic 
Treaty, which is Viereck's astonishing and undocumented con 
tention. I find what he says astonishing not because I under 
estimate the importance of ideas or their purveyors but, I think, 
because I estimate more highly than he does the world's great 
weariness at the end of the war and the lag in perception of any 
society of men most conspicuously a democratic society. (I 
would think it worth pointing out that, judging from evidence 

* I was an associate editor of the New Masses, a Communist weekly, from 
March. 1938 to September 1939. 

287 Communists and Intellectuals 

available at the moment, neither the Truman Doctrine nor 
NATO came too late. Both seem to have worked.) In any case, 
my hope is to set down a few things that may help keep the 
record straight. 

Viereck writes: "Totalitarianism has had an innate attraction 
for an able minority of intellectuals as far back as Plato." And; 
"Intellectuals are more susceptible to the totalitarian lure than 
any group in America." 

"As far back as Plato" is a bit further back than I see any need 
to go. And if we are to take Miss Hannah Arendt's word for it, 
"totalitarianism" belongs to our time, not Plato's. Viereck, 
though, is insisting that there is some connection between what 
he regards as the affinity of modern intellectuals for modern 
totalitarian systems and the association of intellectuals of the 
past with some of its less respectable power systems. No doubt 
this is so. I would assume that there has never been a tyranny 
that has failed to attract support as well as opposition from a 
certain number of intellectuals. Every society, wicked or other 
wise, has an organizing principle. Organizing principles are the 
concern of intellectuals, wicked or otherwise. Both Voltaire and 
Dr. Johnson said that there was no idea i.e., no organizing 
principle so ridiculous but that it could not find defenders 
i.e., Viereck's "able minority." The notion, though, that there 
is any binding tie between, let us say, the scholastics who took 
part in the Inquisition and the American intellectuals who have 
been Communists, is, in my view, pure scholasticism itself. And 
if "totalitarianism" can be stretched to describe illiberal systems 
that predate fascism and Communism, then I cannot think of a 
time in American or Western history when even a significant 
minority of genuine intellectuals have been on the totalitarian 

The second of Viereck's statements that intellectuals of the 
recent past have been "more susceptible to the totalitarian lure 
than any other group in America" seems to me somewhat less 
than half true. Although a considerable number of American 
intellectuals were fetched by Stalinism in the thirties and early 
forties, there was a large difference between the quality of minds 


attracted in those two periods. I think it is entirely reasonable to 
say that it was only in the earlier decade that any substantial 
number of really first-rate people people, that is, fit to represent 
the intellectual community were under Communist influence. 
And even then, the number who resisted Stalinism probably ex 
ceeded the number who succumbed. Those who remained in the 
Communist movement after the Moscow trials and the ' Soviet- 
Nazi pact or who entered it during the war years were for the 
most part intellectuals manque people whose intellectual pre 
tensions outran their performances. The Stalinist fever assailed 
the literary and academic communities in the mid-thirties and 
had about run its course by 1940; after the Nazi attack on Russia 
in June 1941, it became mildly epidemic in Hollywood and in 
certain other centers of the lively arts. There was a small revival 
in academic and religious circles but nothing to be compared 
to the movement of the thirties. I can think of a dozen or so 
fairly serious contributions to American culture made by people 
under Communist influence in the thirties; I cannot think of one 
in the forties. 

The distinction I have in mind is made by Eric Hoffer in The 
True Believer. "Whence come the fanatics?" Hoffer asks, answer 
ing, "Mostly from the ranks of the non-creative men of words. 
The most significant division of men of words is between those 
who can find fulfillment in creative work and those who cannot. 
The creative man of words, no matter how bitterly he may 
criticize and deride the existing order is actually attached to the 
present." And Hoffer goes on to point out that it is the uncreative 
sort who cling to their roles as true believers long after there is 
nothing left to believe in. It was men of this sort, barren and 
bitter, who continued to lend themselves to Communism in the 
forties and who, in considerably diminished numbers, do so 
today. They represent little apart from their own inadequacies.* 

* I believe I overlooked another crucial distinction. The noncreative men 
of words did constitute a large manpower pool for the Communists, but 
dupes also came in large numbers from the ranks of intellectuals whose 
principal currency was something other than words. I am thinking, on the 
one hand, of scientists like Klaus Fuchs and Bruno Pontecorvo and, on the 
other, of artists like Pablo Picasso and David Siqueiros. It would be foolish 
to speak of such men as intellectuals manqud. They simply come from differ- 

289 Communists and Intellectuals 

In the thirties, there were at least two totalitarian lures. The 
one that seemed to pose the greater threat to freedom and decency 
had no intellectual following at all in this country. On the 
contrary, American intellectuals, almost to a man, abhorred fas 
cism, and if a number of them lent themselves to a tyranny quite 
as evil, it was in large measure their loathing of fascism that led 
them to do so. This did not justify or exonerate them. Many of 
our sins are functions of our virtues, and often these are the 
very worst kind. But the fact remains and the present genera 
tion ought to have a clear understanding of it that it was 
precisely when Communism appeared to be in militant opposi 
tion to totalitarianism that its attracting powers were greatest; 
and the point at which intellectuals in large numbers abandoned 
it was as a rule the point at which it became clear to them that 
Communism was itself totalitarian.* 

Viereck says that American intellectuals, in 1953, "have still 
not rejected . . . the most successful Communist hoax ever 
perpetrated: the confusion of criminal deeds with free thought/* 
And he speaks of "the literary defenders of [Alger] Hiss, 
[Judith] Coplon, and the eleven convicted Communist leaders" 
as though there exists some school or sizable bloc of literary 
people that can thus be characterized. 

So far as I know, Alger Hiss is the only one of those Viereck 
mentions who has had any defenders who could reasonably be 
described as "literary." Only the Communist press, which is not 
literary and often is not even literate, has defended the Com 
munist leaders convicted under the Smith Act. (It has had little 
to say about Hiss and nothing to say, I believe, about Miss 
Coplon.) There is only one case I am aware of that of Julius 

ent intellectual realms. Their knowledge and gifts in dealing with social and 
political ideas may be as underdeveloped as those of the verbally noncreative 
of whom Hoffer spoke. There were more illustrious members of the group I 
overlooked abroad than in this country, but this country was not lacking in 
them in the forties. 

* A history of defections would be told largely in terms of the events that 
revealed totalitarian drives: the Kronstadt Rebellion, the banishment of 
Leon Trotsky, the enforced famines of the early thirties, the Moscow trials, 
the Soviet-Nazi pact, the Stalinist pogroms of the early fifties, the crushing 
of the East German and Hungarian revolts. 


and Ethel Rosenberg in which it could be maintained that 
"the confusion of criminal deeds with free thought" had any 
thing to do with sympathy for the accused. It is curious that 
Viereck overlooks it. To be sure, the demonstrations for the 
Rosenbergs took the form of protests against the death penalty. 
Some of those who wished the Rosenbergs spared may have had 
genuine doubts about their guilt or the fairness of their trial. 
But in a good many cases, one can be sure, the doubts as to guilt 
arose from the confusion of which Viereck speaks. And in some 
cases, of course, there was neither confusion nor doubt, but a 
conviction that the "criminal deed" was fathered by noble 

So far as the others are concerned, I know of no defense of 
them in their role as Communist agents. I think that Viereck 
himself is confusing disapproval of the Smith Act under which 
the Communist leaders were convicted with sympathy for the 
politics of those defendants. I happen myself to believe that they 
were convicted for what might best be described as a malevolent 
exercise of free thought and not for anything that in sound usage 
or American law deserves to be called a "conspiracy." But dis 
approval of the law need not breed sympathy for its victims. 

It is a fact that a large part of the American intellectual 
community refused for some time to entertain seriously even the 
possibility that Alger Hiss could have been guilty as charged, and 
there are still people who cannot bring themselves to confront 
the formidable evidence the government brought forth. But 
Viereck confuses disbelief in Hiss's guilt with sympathy for the 
crime of which he was accused. (I am putting aside as a techni 
cality the fact that he was indicted for perjury rather than, be 
cause of protection by the statute of limitations, espionage.) This, 
to be sure, does not invalidate Viereck's charge that many of 
Hiss's defenders were, as John Dos Passos put it, parties to the 
unlovely spectacle of "the moral lynching of Whittaker Cham 
bers." Those people, most of whom knew Hiss not as a man but 
as a symbol of what they thought of as their own nicely ordered 
world, were smug and prideful in their own values, and those 
values got in the way of their understanding of evil. 

But their inability to believe that Hiss had been a spy was a 

291 Communists and Intellectuals 

very different thing from defending him as a spy, and it is the 
kind of difference that one is distressed to see a serious historian 
not make. It was not because many people sympathized with 
Communist agents that they defended Hiss and reviled Cham 
bers; it was because they thought Hiss had been unjustly accused 
of being so loathsome a thing as a spy and accused, as it 
happened, by a man who owned up to having been one. They 
felt, most of them, that Hiss's virtue was as secure as their own 
because Hiss happened to be peculiarly one of their own. Most 
of them saw Chambers not as an anti-Communist but as a 
Communist apostate, and it was almost as much his having once 
been a Communist spy as his current state of apostasy that 
turned them against him before they had weighed his testimony. 
What worked in Hiss's favor, what bred incredulity about his 
guilt, was the gentility of his background and his associations: 
Harvard, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., old-line law offices, John 
Foster Dulles, the Carnegie Endowment, and success. It was not 
the destructive, revolutionary instincts he appealed to but the 
deeply bourgeois ones. 

Viereck is almost at one with the Yahoos in identifying Com 
munism with the avant garde. American intellectuals, he says, 
"naturally know best the society they have studied best. . . . 
This is a society seen through the colored glasses of a literary 
(at first nonpolitical) anti-bourgeois crusade/' He goes on to 
speak of the "familiar blend of an 'aristocratic* snob in art and a 
fellow-traveling 'progressive' in politics/' and he associates the 
attitudes of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Henry Miller with those 
of the Communist intellectual. Before he is through, he has 
managed to involve Joyce, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Spengler, Rim 
baud as ancestors of his Bloody-Minded Professors. 

Nothing, it would seem to me, could be wider of the mark. The 
American intellectuals who fell hardest for Communism were 
men not of avant-garde tastes but of tastes rather safe and con 
ventional.. Scratch a Communist today and you will find not an 
admirer of Rimbaud but of John Greenleaf Whittier, not a 
student of Eliot but of Carl Sandburg. (I imply here no political 
judgment of either American.) Communists do not read Joyce or 


Flaubert but Jack London and Upton Sinclair. How Mr. Viereck 
can associate either mandarin or avant-garde literature with 
Communists or fellow travelers is beyond me, particularly when 
he seems to be well aware of the fact that the cultural tone they 
set in the thirties (and there can be little doubt that they did 
set a tone in that period) was deplorable because it was cheap and 
metallic and strident. Here, as in the Soviet Union, Communist 
writing and Communist painting and Communist thinking have 
been corny and vulgar and innocent of any subtlety. 

Historically, the fact is that mandarin and avant-garde tastes 
were a protection against the Communist heresy though one 
could hardly say that they strengthened sound political judg 
ment. Pound admired Mussolini and Hitler. Yeats and Wyndham 
Lewis were fascist fellow travelers for a time, and Eliot's politics 
have always seemed to me less admirable than his poetry and 
criticism. Nevertheless, it was the writers who were under the 
kind of literary influences Viereck dislikes who had the least to 
do with Communism and who, when they did become involved, 
made the earliest departures while those with the minds of 
accountants lingered on. Compare the political record of Edmund 
Wilson, Allen Tate, and Wallace Stevens with that of Howard 
Fast, Dalton Trumbo, and Michael Gold. It is difficult to find 
Communist names that do not look ludicrous alongside the 

From a moralist's point of view, it matters hardly at all 
whether the Communist intellectuals achieved any of their 
political aims or "affected the course of actual history." Guilt is 
individual, and a man who is defeated by others in an attempt 
at crime has as much to answer for everywhere but before the 
law as the man who is successful. But moralists like Viereck 
have a yen to strengthen their case by imputing success wherever 
possible to the devils of their pieces. Viereck talks a lot about 
Communist infiltration of the New Deal and about the terrible 
presence of Alger Hiss at Yalta. There is no doubt that Com 
munists did infiltrate the New Deal. It would be surprising 
indeed if they had not done so. They were part of a world-wide 
infiltrating movement, and some of them managed to get into 

2^3 Communists and Intellectuals 

governments policed a great deal more carefully than ours 
Nazi Germany's, for example, and Imperial Japan's. Recent 
Congressional investigations may have exaggerated the extent 
of infiltration, but there was some, and there is no reason why a 
sovereign state should have anywhere within its government 
agents of a hostile state. Alger Hiss, Julian Wadleigh, and Carl 
Marzani should not have been in the State Department. Lee 
Pressman and John Abt should not have been in the Department 
of Agriculture. 

I have never seen, though, the slightest evidence that Com 
munists in the government had any effect on policy. I have never 
been able to think of a single major policy or decision that would 
not have been taken if Washington had never let a Communist 
past the District of Columbia line. This does not mean that 
Communists had no influence at all; it simply means that I, in 
common with Senator McCarthy, cannot come up with instances 
of their influence. And it means that it is possible to conceive 
of the history of the past twenty years as having been exactly 
what it was without a trace of Communist influence. Viereck 
speaks of Hiss at Yalta, of Hiss at San Francisco when the United 
Nations was being organized, of Hiss in the State Department 
throughout the war. And Hiss himself has spoken of his work on 
the Yalta agreements and at the founding sessions of the U.N. 
But the point about Yalta, surely, is not what papers Hiss may 
have had a hand in drafting but in what agreements Roosevelt 
and Stettinius signed. I cannot see what would have been 
different if Hiss had been second secretary at Lima throughout 
the conference. Quite conceivably some minor actions may have 
been traceable to the presence of Communists and some decisions 
affected to a degree by them; someone may have tucked in an 
extra locomotive on a shipment to the Soviet Union or have 
written a memorandum that influenced General George C. 
Marshall's view of events in China. And it is even conceivable 
that a balance was somewhere tipped by a Communist's exertion 
of minute authority. Only the most cocksure of determinists 
could categorically deny such possibilities. But reasonable men 
do not spin theories around them. 

Viereck prefaces his essay on the Bloody-Minded Professors 


with the famous observation of the late Lord Keynes that 
"Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling 
their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back." 
But Lord Keynes* remark applies to some demagogues and not 
to others and in varying senses and degrees to those of whom it 
is true. The Communist movement owes a clear and heavy debt 
to a few intellectuals, all of them long since dead, but how about 
the fascist movement? One could draw up a list of Hitler's and 
Mussolini's intellectual obligations, certain of which would be to 
Marx and Lenin, but I doubt very much if the prophets of 
fascism were in any sense necessary to the movement. Hitler and 
Mussolini were, like so many madmen in authority, scribblers 
themselves, and even if I am mistaken in suspecting that they 
distilled most of their own frenzies, their ideas were simple 
enough and rude enough to have been generated in their own 
rude minds in the event that this had been necessary. 

And if a writer or professor stands at the shoulder of every 
demagogue, where are the mentors of a man like Senator McCar 
thy? Regrettably, this destroyer comes by a certain amount of 
the misinformation he spreads through people who qualify or 
once qualified as intellectuals, but what few ideas he has appear 
to be strictly his own. The case of Stalin is also instructive. 
Stalin has recently composed an essay the eagerness of tyrants 
to be scribblers is quite a phenomenon in itself that is full of 
political ideas and analyses, but these, apparently, do not grow 
out of any reasonable or even unreasonable reading of the 
sacred texts of Marxism. They seem to grow, on the contrary, 
directly from the strategic requirements of the situation in which 
he finds himself at the moment. And this, I think, is where 
tyrants get most of their ideas. They may plagiarize their betters 
out of vanity; they may conceal the evils they propose in the 
language of philosophy; they may indeed be greatly aided by 
ideas and may manipulate them to secure advantages of power. 
But, by and large, power has its own logic, which is well within 
the grasp of even the most sluggish of intellects, and it is a mis 
reading of history to suppose that because some disasters have 
been abetted by la trahison des clercs, all disasters can be under 
stood by some doctrine of cherchez le clerc. 

The Dead Red Decade 


MURRAY KEMPTON'S Part of Our Time: Some Ruins and Monu 
ments of the Thirties is easily the best essay on American Com 
munism and Communists that anyone has done, and it should 
rank high in the broader category of books about American life 
and politics. Kempton is a journalist of formidable talent and 
versatility. Every phase of life interests him, and he has a novel 
ist's sense of character and change. His work is not without grave 
defects. He is a word-lover who sometimes lapses into mere 
wordiness. His insights can be brilliant but his logic can be 
ragged. He is an easy paradoxer and at times an outrageous 
generalizer. He is capable of schmalz, particularly when, after 
the current fashion, he stops writing about men and gets him 
self all worked up over Man for example, "Man always hates 
his last blind alley." On the whole, though, he is a remarkably 
rewarding writer. 

Kempton calls this book an account of "the myth of the 
nine teen-thirties." He has in mind two myths, one the ridiculous 
view of the world held by the Communists of the period, the 
other the ridiculous view of the Communists of the period held 
today in certain political circles in Washington and certain 
intellectual circles in New York. Kempton is not the sort to be 
trapped by his own schemes or held to his own agenda, and he 
soon finds better things to do than deal with these myths, both 
of which can be disposed of with a few light applications of 
reason. In the main, his book is a series of character studies. His 
"ruins and monuments" are human, and though they are 
wildly diverse in their humanity, they mostly fall into two 


categories: people whose resentments led them Into the Com 
munist party and people whose resentments didn't. When it is 
feasible, Kempton arranges his case studies in counterpoint. 
Thus, he examines together the careers of Lee Pressman, the 
clever government and C.I.O. lawyer who came closer, perhaps, 
than any other American to being an iron Bolshevik intellectual 
in the Lenin mold, and Gardner Jackson, the Boston newspaper 
man who organized the Sacco-Vanzetti defense thirty years ago, 
whose subsequent life (including a long period of services as an 
associate of, among others, Pressman in the C.I.O.) has been one 
loud protest after another, but who never succumbed to Com 
munism. Paul Robeson, who succumbed, is paired with A. Philip 
Randolph, the president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car 
Porters, who did not. The chilling story of Elizabeth Bentley, the 
plain, meek, respectable Vassar girl who became the mistress and 
slavey of a Soviet spy, and the chilling story of Ann Moos Reming 
ton, the hard case from Bennington who made her Dartmouth 
boy friend, the late William Remington, promise that he would 
never, never be unfaithful to the Communist party, are told, 
along with that of Mary Heaton Vorse, a gay and venerable 
libertarian lady never a Communist, though once fleetingly 
associated in matrimony with a man who later became one of 
more deeply revolutionary instincts than either Miss Bentley or 
the former Mrs. Remington. Some of Kempton's exhibits are 
very rare birds indeed, incomparable in their plumage and al 
together unique in their migratory habits, and these are dealt 
with separately. Such a one is Dr. J. B. Matthews, a son of the 
Bible Belt and former missionary to the Japanese who in the 
early thirties became the world's champion fellow traveler, 
joining Communist fronts as compulsively as a pie-eating cham 
pion eats pies, and who is still a titleholder, as the ranking 
heavyweight informer, the apostates' apostate, the dinner-jacketed 
tycoon of anti-Communism. Dr. Matthews is beyond compare, 
and for him Kempton abandons his counterpoint method. 

The lives blighted by Communism are Kempton's "ruins," 
and the others are his ''monuments." But it is no simple piety or 
modish sense of political rectitude that pervades his work. Some 
of the ruins are admirable and worth revisiting, while some of 

sp/ The Dead Red Decade 

the monuments got to be monuments only because nature 
endowed them with an attribute of all statuary, lifelessness. 
Picking his way through the rubble, Kempton sees much that 
others have failed to see. Most Communists, he feels, were rebels 
whose rebelliousness was either defective or arrested, and this 
notion provides an illumination that no previous critic has 
offered. Where others, for example, have seen in the proper, 
fastidious, junior-executive comportment of Alger Hiss a dev 
ilishly clever masquerade, Kempton, in the study of the Hiss- 
Chambers case that opens his book, sees that comportment as 
the real thing. Hiss had a quarrel with the genteel side of his 
shabby-genteel upbringing, and he came out second best. He was 
a revolutionist manque, a man in whom the doctrine's pull was 
strong but never as strong as the pull of his own past. The 
friendship with Chambers was the essence of Hiss's revolutionary 
experience in fact, it was the experience, at least through the 
years it lasted. Hiss could be a Communist and pass documents 
and give a party organizer a beat-up Ford, but he could not be a 
revolutionist except vicariously, through the agency of Whitaker 
Chambers. This, of course, is a speculation on Kempton *s part, 
but it is a compelling one. How human it would be, Kempton 
says, for Alger Hiss, granted his Marxism, granted his shabby- 
genteel background, granted a cozy bureaucratic success he could 
not reject, to find in Chambers exactly what he found wanting 
in himself. "Chambers must have sat in the Hiss apartment with 
all his scars upon him, a lowering symbol of power and ex 
perience . . . the image of dedication and adjustment to alien 
ation . . . the image of absolute revolt and the breaking of 
the bands." As Hiss, in this subjective reconstruction, perceived 
in Chambers a means of redressing his grievances against him 
self, Chambers perceived, or imagined he perceived, in Hiss 
what he himself had lost through winning, years earlier, the 
argument with his own shabby-genteel environment. In the 
friendship with Hiss, Kempton thinks, Chambers was already 
straining toward the respectability and orderliness he now sets 
such store by. "Could Chambers have seen in Hiss the image of 
absolute security? . . . [He] seemed to reach out to the Hisses 
with some of that same passion for the ordinary and the normal 


which runs through his later odes to simple Americans. . . . 
[A] whole part of Whittaker Chambers must have come fleeing 
to Alger Hiss, and this apartment, poor in imagination though 
it was, must have been ... as close to peace as this man pursued 
by the furies could ever get. For, if the Hisses had consciously 
rejected the sheltered life, they still lived within it." 

It is a weakness of Kempton's method that Communism keeps 
getting reduced to a kind of do-it-yourself psychotherapy. He 
knows it is more than that, and now and then he says so, but he 
never really takes the full measure of the idea or the movement. 
Still, this approach unearths a few ironies, one of which is that 
so malevolent a conspiracy should have been staffed by men and 
women of such piddling malevolence, of what (by any rational 
analysis) would appear to be a strictly third-rate talent for evil. 
Their boldest dreams were not very far beyond their realities. 
To have been a Communist bureaucrat rather than a New Deal 
bureaucrat would, apparently, have been the height of romance 
for Alger Hiss. The most incendiary remark Chambers could 
recall Hiss making was "Joe Stalin certainly plays for keeps." 
A bit of appreciation by untutored savages in the mission 
fields, by May Day paraders, or by a claque rounded up on 
Madison Avenue by George Sokolsky seems to be all that Dr. 
Matthews has ever asked. Elizabeth Bentley faltered into Com 
munism while seeking the company that misery craves. She 
might as easily have found it in the Y.W.C.A. Broadening her 
horizons, she sought domesticity and ended up a spy queen. 

Kempton makes his points most vividly in his consideration 
of the Communist writers in Hollywood. Communism in Holly 
wood had no function and no consequences except those that 
could be bought, outside Hollywood, with the money the movie 
people kicked in. And this was never very much. By plodding 
through transcripts of Congressional hearings and by under 
taking other research, Kempton has established that all the 
cash the Communists got from Hollywood would not have kept 
the Daily Worker solvent for six months, and that getting it 
was a terrible ordeal for the party. Like bankers beefing about 
their tax burdens, the fif teen-hundred-a-week Gorkis were forever 
beefing about the high cost of subversion, and in many cases 

2$ 9 The Dead Red Decade 

they returned to Americanism heavily in arrears to un-American- 
ism. Kempton has also made a painfully close study of the output 
of the Gorkis when their revolutionary ardor was high films like 
"Pride of the Marines," "Mama Runs Wild," "They Shall Have 
Music/' "Sorority House/' "The Kid from Kokomo," and "Radio 
City Revels/' He found the contents fairly represented by the 
titles. It might be supposed that men who aspired to liberate 
humanity from the kingdom of necessity, to strike the shackles 
from all the slaves of capitalism, would be violently in revolt 
against a fate that compelled them (or did it? Who said they had 
to work in Hollywood?) to expend their talent on such stuff. 
They were in revolt, but not aggressively so. The Hollywood 
Communists, Kempton says, "sounded passionate in their protest 
against Hitler or Franco or Tom Girdler and countless other 
distant devils. But they ceased very soon to be passionate in their 
protest against Hollywood/' When they learned that Budd 
Schulberg was saying nasty things about the industry in "What 
Makes Sammy Run?/' their ideologues descended on him and 
tried to talk him out of allowing the book to be published, 
because they regarded it as an attack on a great folk art. Schul 
berg found this argument unconvincing and quit the party. The 
truth is that there were more affinities between Hollywood and 
Communism than were ever dreamed of by Congressional investi 
gators. Both made the same demands on artists "the presenta 
tion of an image of the common man so ... hyperbolic and so 
contrived as to be totally removed from reality. . * . The slogans, 
the sweeping formulae, the superficial clangor of Communist 
culture had a certain fashion in Hollywood precisely because 
they were two-dimensional appeals to a two-dimensional com 
munity." In the end, the industry turned out to have the greater 
vitality. "The Hollywood Communists . . . were unable to cor 
rupt them, and they got rich fabricating empty banalities to fit 
Hollywood's idea of life in America." 

In the course of this survey, Kempton goes in some detail into 
the history of three trade unions: the National Maritime Union, 
the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the United Auto 
mobile Workers. His commentaries must be among the most 
readable and instructive ones ever written on American trade 


unionism, a subject that normally attracts only the most cloddish 
sort of researchers. Of these three organizations, only the 
National Maritime Union was ever controlled by Communists. 
The two others were given a good deal of trouble by them but 
were never captured. Many of the principal leaders of the 
N.M.U. had at one time been members of the party. When the 
moment came, however, for them to choose between their union 
and their party, the best of them, with hardly a trace of anguish, 
chose the union. Kempton makes the point that these labor men 
were almost the only American Communists whose quarrel with 
society was clearly distinguishable from their quarrel with 
themselves. Doubtless there were some Communists whose aliena 
tion had similar causes, who were in rebellion against the 
realities of life around them and not simply in flight from reality, 
but most American Communists, according to Kempton, had a 
strong sense of their own guilt and only a feeble awareness of any 
evil in the economic system. If his theory is sound, it is politically 
encouraging, for it suggests that those who become Communists 
out of hunger, actual or metaphorical, can easily put Communism 
aside. When the hunger of the Maritime leaders "was appeased 
and they were no longer alienated, they departed with only a 
backward glance." It has become fashionable lately to say that 
Communism is a malady of the spirit and will not be cured by 
Marshall Plans, Point Four programs, and military alliances. 
Our experience with Communists in this country is often cited 
in defense of this view. Kempton's investigation suggests that 
the meaningful kind of Communism, the kind that has real 
consequences in the real world, is a malady of society and can 
be socially dealt with. 

On Political Sophistication 


POLITICS, Bismarck is said to have said, is the art of the possible. 
Nothing, on the one hand, could be more obvious; nothing, on 
the other, could be closer to the height of sophistication. There 
is, after all, no art of the impossible, and there are other disci 
plines engineering, for example in which the essential calcula 
tions are of feasibility. Still, Bismarck struck at the heart of the 
matter. The essence of political judgment is the appraisal of 
potentials. The true political sophisticate knows what the options 
are and how much of what is desirable is attainable. (If his gift 
is of the highest order, he knows how much of what is attainable 
is desirable.) He knows which tensions can be withstood and 
which are unendurable. He knows that the magnitude of commit 
ments must be matched by the magnitude of available power. 
In politics, sophistication has nothing to do with chic or refine 
ment or the haut monde. It is not a finish or a facade; it is a 
supporting member, part of the foundation. It can be accom 
panied by coarseness of mind and manner. Up to a point, it is a 
morally and intellectually neutral quality. Up to a point, Joseph 
Stalin and Joseph McCarthy shared it with Mahatma Gandhi and 
Woodrow Wilson. It is not in all cases required for success, and 
success is not invariably the lot of those who possess it. Dwight 
Eisenhower lacked it and got along splendidly. Robert A. Taft 
had it in abundance and lost all the big games. In general, 
though, the memorable figures are the astute reckoners of the 
possibilities, and the most memorable are those who have made 
the boldest reckonings and been proved right those, that is to 
say, who have seen and sought the outermost limits of the realm 


of the possible. Franklin D. Roosevelt was such a one. John F. 
Kennedy gives promise of being another. Our age has also been 
rich in men who have seen possibilities one wishes they had been 
blind to Lenin at the Finland Station, Hitler in Munich, Mao 
Tse-tung in the marshes with the Eighth Route Army. 

Conservatives are, by and large, fonder than liberals and 
radicals of Bismarck's dictum, and they habitually consign all 
idealists and apostles of change to the ranks of the unsophisti 
cated. In this, they are gravely mistaken. There are sophisticated 
idealists, and there are naive conservatives. The Reverend Martin 
Luther King is an example of the first, the Reverend Barry Gold- 
water of the second. The Alabama pastor had a large vision of 
what might be attainable through militant nonviolence, and he 
is today the effective leader and symbol of an exceedingly influ 
ential movement in American life. The Arizona pastor may get 
the Republican nomination in 1964, but only if at convention 
time the Republican party is resigned to a defeat of great magni 
tude; he is unlikely in any event to have a significant impact on 
our society, for he is an atrocious judge of the options of leader 
ship in an industrial society in the twentieth century. Indeed, 
he will not so much as address himself to the problem. Connois 
seurs of political nai'vet^ would be hard put to pick up a choicer 
piece than this from Conscience of a Conservative: "The princi 
ples on which the Conservative position is based have been estab 
lished by a process that has nothing to do with the social, eco 
nomic, and political landscape that changes from decade to decade 
and from century to century." A man can be both far out and 
sophisticated but not far out of this world and this century. 

The politician fearful of having sins of omission charged to 
his account will take refuge in the doctrine that politics is the art 
of the possible, which in folk wisdom may be translated as, 
"Don't bite off more than you can chew." The political sophisti 
cate honors this injunction and knows of instances in which too 
large a bite or too few teeth has led to grief. The late John 
Foster Dulles was in many respects a great public servant, but he 
was in certain crucial ways a most unsophisticated diplomat. He 
confused preachment with power. He everlastingly proposed 
more than he was able to dispose. He talked of "liberation" of 

505 On Political Sophistication 

the captive nations as though it could be accomplished by the 
letting of rhetoric rather than by the letting of blood. He sought 
to form impregnable alliances in the Far East and in the Middle 
East, and he got the signatures of the head men on paper. Paper 
turned out to be what the alliances were made of. He was operat 
ing outside the realm of the possible; he had bitten off more than 
he could chew. But this is no greater a failing than its corollary, 
which is underestimation of masticatory and digestive capacity. 
The ranks of the forgotten and the dishonored are filled with 
those who have not seen far enough. The name of Neville 
Chamberlain would be celebrated today if he had had Winston 
Churchill's sense of how much was within the realm of the 
possible for the British people. The political sophisticate, having 
acknowledged the supreme unwisdom of biting off more than 
you can chew, would also point out that there can be folly and 
misery in biting off less than you can chew. 

Power can serve good, bad, or indifferent ends, and most 
political men must now and then traffic in ideas and principles. 
Where ideas are involved, another and more traditional aspect of 
sophistication taste, intellectual discrimination, cultivation 
becomes relevant. The Messrs. Stalin and McCarthy can be 
described as political sophisticates only because principles did not 
compete with one another in their closed universes. The Russian 
accepted Marxist dogma as a completed science. The American 
was cheerfully free of any concern about the validity of ideas. 
There are many less lustrous figures of high sophistication who 
are simply beyond ideology. The United States Congress has 
many skillful, wily, and knowing men whose basic notions of 
justice, truth, and beauty are communicated to them directly 
from the grass roots toward which their ears are always bent. 
But most men recognize a conflict of principles, and most men 
wish to believe that there is a correspondence between their own 
ideology and virtue. In free societies, participants in the political 
process may shop for remedies in a market that contains a stag 
gering variety of them cunningly advertised, as a rule, and 
gaudily packaged. It seems to me that there are two equally 
sophisticated approaches to political ideas. One may be taken 
by the man who feels a call to have an early and direct impact 


. sitting President, let us say, or almost any serious officeholder 
or office seeker. The other may be taken by a man who, while 
aware that mere sermonizing is unlikely to deflect human evil, 
knows what power there can be in the repeated assertion and 
exemplification of principle. Both types must be concerned with 
what is within the realm of the possible, but the realm of the 
possible is within the realm of time, a dimension that alters 
perspectives. It was not Mr. Dulles' zeal for liberation of the 
satellites that revealed a lack of sophistication; the principle is 
noble and probably essential to the foreign policy of the West 
ern powers* His nai'vet^ was revealed by his effort to make it a 
programmatic aim of the American government in 1953 and 
1954. Similarly, Senator Goldwater seems naive not because his 
ideas lack dignity, moral worth, or even practicability, but 
because the energies he expends for their advancement are 
expended within the framework of operative power, which in his 
time will offer them no hospitality. Norman Thomas, the Socialist 
leader, has been vastly more sophisticated. He has spent a life 
time outside the framework of operative power, where reason, 
eloquence, and force of character have a chance, and his influence 
over the long run has probably been as great as that of Senators 
Styles Bridges and Everett McKinley Dirksen, in tandem. 

The sophisticate, when he deals with political ideas, must do 
more than take moral soundings and measure the currents of 
power. There are ideas that positively ooze goodness and are 
altogether within the realm of the possible, yet are unacceptable 
on the grounds that their consequences would be awful. Unilat 
eral nuclear disarmament, as a case in point, is surely an attain 
able goal. It has attracted some highly practical and sophisticated 
politicians in England, and the anxieties that have bred the 
clamor for it there are bound to mount on this side of the 
Atlantic. Its appeal is to the very best instincts. There are argu 
ments in its favor plausible enough to commend themselves to 
Bertrand Russell, surely one of the most sophisticated men of 
our century. Its fatal programmatic weakness, which one sup 
poses would have been spotted by a younger Lord Russell, is 
that it ignores the basic facts of power. Nations of either malign 

205 On Political Sophistication 

or benign intent use superior power for whatever leverage they 
can gain with it. The Soviet Union does it; we do it, when we 
can. If Nation A were to disarm totally in advance of Nation B, 
Nation B's power would be augmented by a factor of infinity. 
To expect restraint and forbearance on the part of Nation B 
would be to expect what all of human experience tells us we 
have no right to expect. In considering such a proposition as 
unilateral nuclear disarmament, the Westerner with a ripened 
political mind would ask himself whether, if the shoe were on 
the other foot and it were the Soviets who proposed to divest 
themselves of power, the West would seek no gain whatever from 
the absolute superiority it would thereby be accorded. Gullibility 
may be an amiable failing in some departments of life. The 
sucker may be afflicted by nothing but an excess of faith, hope, 
and charity, and surely there are worse things than that. Political 
gullibility has political consequences, which can be disastrous. 
The specter that haunts several continents today militant inter 
national communism, supported by intercontinental ballistic 
missiles with atomic warheads is to a large degree founded upon 
the gullibility of men and women of irreproachable social moral 
ity and a high level of intellectual sophistication. The Soviet 
Union may by now have schooled a bureaucracy of time-serving, 
case-hardened bureaucrats, but among those who brought the 
bureaucracy into being were many men of intelligence and of a 
dedication that was not in itself despicable. Outside the Soviet 
Union, in the decades since the Russian Revolution, communism 
has advanced not by the efforts of the worst elements in society 
but, more often than not, by those who have been close to the 
best if our measure of the best registers generosity of spirit and 
an awareness of existing evils. Their weakness, which helped 
to create a form of strength that imperils freedom, was generally 
a weakness of the critical faculties. They would not give the 
remedies that attracted them the same hard scrutiny they gave 
to the ills they were eager to cure. They could not bring to their 
own rebellion the detachment with which they viewed the institu 
tions they judged to be oppressive. This seems always the tragedy 
of political passion that it is the enemy of a tempering sophisti- 


cation. From the appearance of things at the moment, a similar 
tragedy is in the making where the nationalist fevers are running 
high in Latin America and in Africa. 

It is a curious feature of politics that it corrodes sophistication 
even where passions are not deeply engaged. There is the case of 
Bertrand Russell, the greatest of modern skeptics and rational 
ists. There is the case of Jean-Paul Sartre, a living monument to 
shrewdness, who has propounded more childish nonsense about 
politics in the last decade than any other European except his 
close associate, Simone de Beauvoir, a great sophisticate in her 
own right, who has managed to misconstrue, in lengthy books, not 
only the problems of Europe, but those of the United States 
and China as well. And there is our own Ezra Pound, the most 
cosmopolitan of Americans, learned, tough-minded, and often 
breath-taking in his critical insights but a patsy for Benito 
Mussolini and a great clutch of lesser scoundrels. Somehow an 
intimate knowledge of human folly and a study of its myriad 
manifestations through the ages is not enough to shield them from 
political folly and from what the late George Orwell liked to 
call the "smelly little orthodoxies" that have so often enlisted 
their sympathies and their talents. 

Part of the difficulty, I think, is that politics, like love, appears 
to invite, even demand, involvement, passionate or otherwise. 
The sophisticated man can look upon the arts as something to 
be enjoyed, appraised, improved by, and indulged in if the 
consequences seem likely to be valuable to himself or anyone else. 
Politics calls for meddling as a ripe peach calls for eating partic 
ularly, of course, in a free society, and most particularly in a 
time of crisis. In the twenties, Walter Lippmann could give the 
political sophisticate a simple credo that had detachment and 
observation at its core. "The mature man," he wrote, "would 
take the world as it comes and remain within himself quite 
unperturbed. And so, whether he saw the thing as comedy, or 
high tragedy, or plain farce, he would affirm that it is what it is, 
and that the wise man can enjoy it." Lippmann is the dean of 
sophisticates today, but the world of his seventies is a world too 
anguished and too imperiled for him to commend it as an enter 
taining spectacle. Yet there is, it seems to me, a saving value in 

307 On Political Sophistication 

sophistication that can grow with detachment and should even 
be able to survive involvement. An affair with a political idea or 
a political leader may resemble a love affair, but there is no sound 
reason why a man should play the game according to the same 
rules. No doctrine must be embraced simply for being its own 
dear self. There is nothing immoral or unfaithful in discarding 
an idea that has lost its youthful charm. There is nothing fickle 
in carrying on with several ideas at the same time. Ideas do not 
demand to be adored; they demand to be studied and applied 
when it is useful to apply them. Leaders have no claim upon our 
loyalty or affection except as they earn it from day to day. It is 
for them and not for their followers to remain constant. Politics 
is the art of the possible, and the possible is always in flux. 

Perhaps the greatest of all political sophisticates was the 
Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, who reigned, according to 
Gibbon, in "the period in the history of the world during which 
the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous. 
. . . The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by 
absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The 
armies were restrained by four successive emperors, whose 
characters and authority commanded involuntary respect . . . 
who delighted in the image of liberty and were pleased with 
considering themselves the accountable ministers of the law." 
Marcus Aurelius "was severe to himself, indulgent to the 
imperfections of others, just and beneficent to all mankind. 
. . . War he detested as the disgrace and calamity of human 
nature, but when the necessity of a just defense called upon him 
to take up arms, he readily exposed his person to eight winter 
campaigns on the frozen banks of the Danube, the severity of 
which was at last fatal. . . ." In an army camp, he wrote his 
great Meditations, which contains a sophisticated credo that is 
unlikely ever to call for revision: 

Make for thyself a definition or description of the thing which is pre 
sented to thee, so as to see distinctly what kind of thing it is in its 
substance, in its nudity, in its complete entirety, and tell thyself its 
proper name, and the names of the things of which it has been com 
pounded and into which it will be resolved. For nothing is so produc 
tive o elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically and 


truly every object which is presented to thee in life, and always to 
look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe 
this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value 
everything has with reference to the whole, and what with reference to 
man, who is a citizen of the highest city, of which all other cities are 
like families; what each thing is and of what it is composed, and how 
long it is the nature of this thing to endure which now makes an im 
pression on me. 

Ch fries Eggert 


is one of the country's best-known political 
analysts. He has been a staff writer for The 
NeiD Yorker since 1944, and since 1948 has 
contributed its ''Letter from Washington." 
A native New Yorker, he is a graduate of 
Bard College, and a member of the editorial 
board of The American Scholar. He is a 
frequent contributor to the Neiv York 
Times, Esquire, and Harper's. He is married 
and has three children. In addition to 
Senator Joe McCarthy, he has published 
three books Howe e^ Huf/vmel: Their 
True mid Scandalous History; The General 
and the President (with Arthur M. Schles- 
inger, Jr.); aad Affairs of State: The Eisen 
hower Years. 

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